Monday, December 25, 2017

Aviation companies fined by Transport Canada in B.C.

Richmond-based Helijet has received the heaviest fines from Transport Canada so far this year for aviation violations in B.C., a review of federal enforcement files by Postmedia News reveals.

Helijet was fined a total of $26,250 on six counts over four separate days for failure to operate an aircraft “in accordance with the operating limitations set out in the aircraft flight manual.”

The federal department had raised concerns about the model of aircraft used by Helijet doing night flights onto so-called H1 category hospital helipads — those in dense urban areas — and the need for more windows so that if one engine fails, pilots would have an unobstructed view for an emergency landing.

Rick Hill, Helijet’s vice-president of commercial and business programs, said in response to the fines that the issue stemmed from a Transport Canada inspection in March 2016 that resulted in Helijet voluntarily suspending its Sikorsky 76C+ air-medical helicopters from landing at up to seven hospital helipads in or near urban areas.

“A Transport Canada routine inspection determined that Helijet’s S76 Sikorsky helicopters used for air-medical operations were not technically compliant with Transport Canada’s criteria for landing at H1 class heliports,” Hill said.

The issue related to an “impasse over documentation compliance concerning interpretation of the Sikorsky S-76C+ flight manual,” he said. While the issue was under review, Helijet curtailed certain air-ambulance flights, and found alternative “safe and effective means to transport patients in need of urgent medical care,” he said.

Eventually, a new technical document referred to as a Supplemental Type Certificate was approved by Transport Canada and added to the S76C+ helicopter flight manual, which permitted resumption of landings at all previously restricted ground and elevated H1 designated hospital heliports in December 2016, Hill said.

Other aviation companies fined by Transport Canada in B.C. this year through October include:

Helipsair Inc., a Quebec-based flight training and commercial helicopter company, fined $3,750 for a helicopter takeoff/approach/landing within a built-up area of a city or town.

Canadian Institute of Aviation Technology of Kelowna, $3,750, for failing to record, at the required time, the required particulars in the aircraft journey log.

A numbered company, 1590877 Alberta Inc., a total of $15,000 for three counts: operating an aircraft not properly registered, permitting an aircraft to takeoff when it did not meet airworthiness directives requirements, and permitting an aircraft to takeoff when it had not been properly maintained.

Northern Thunderbird Air Inc., based in Prince George, a total of $15,000, for three counts of permitting an aircraft to takeoff where the required equipment failed to meet airworthiness standards.

Heiltsuk Economic Development Corporation of Bella Bella, a total of $8,750, for two counts, failing to establish and maintain a Safety Management System and failing to submit an airport wildlife plan.

A separate review by Postmedia News of Transport Canada files on reportable aviation incidents for 2017 showed several involving Helijet Sikorsky helicopters, largely typical of the range of events that aircraft encounter every year.

Nov. 22: During a flight from Vancouver harbour to Victoria International Airport, the crew declared an emergency due to concerns with the tail rotor. After a safe landing, an inspection revealed a malfunction with the autopilot computer. 

Oct. 10: During a flight from Vancouver harbour to Victoria harbour, the crew declared an emergency after observing a number-one engine fire-warning light. The crew activated the fire extinguisher and the warning light went out. A subsequent inspection revealed a false warning caused by moisture on the fire detector amplifier cannon plug.

Sept. 6: The GPS stopped working during a flight from Masset to Sandspit in poor weather. Unable to ascertain the exact geographic position, the pilot climbed to obtain a visual reference with the terrain. A Mayday was declared and radar vectors provided and the pilot flew towards Sandspit, regaining a visual reference near Queen Charlotte City before landing at Sandspit. “The operator reported that the GPS antenna was not connected properly.”

July 2: On a local flight from Sandspit, the crew “reported a float plane 100 feet overhead,” believed to be an Inland Air Charters de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver. 

April 28: The crew descended and “altered heading toward the south in order to avoid a collision” with a Canadian Forces Lockheed C-130 near Bowen Island flying at the same altitude. 

Feb. 6: Shortly after takeoff from Vancouver harbour, the helicopter struck a bird on one of the main rotor tip caps and the crew returned for landing. 

Jan. 9: A bird struck the main rotor during a medevac flight from Vancouver harbour to Sechelt. An emergency was declared and the aircraft landed safely at Vancouver International Airport with firefighting crews standing by.

Original article can be found here ➤

Cessna 172N Skyhawk, N91SP: Accident occurred December 24, 2017 in Union Mills, Rutherford County, North Carolina

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entity: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Greensboro, North Carolina

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Union Mills, NC
Accident Number: ERA18LA059
Date & Time: 12/24/2017, 1500 EST
Registration: N91SP
Aircraft: CESSNA 172
Injuries: 1 Minor
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On December 24, 2017, about 1500 eastern standard time, a Cessna 172N, N91SP, was substantially damaged during a forced landing in Union Mills, North Carolina. The commercial pilot, who was also the owner of the airplane sustained minor injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the personal flight conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to the pilot, the purpose of the flight was to perform approaches to the private airstrip that he was constructing on his property. He said the performance and handling of the airplane was "perfect" throughout the flight, and that he performed multiple low approaches successfully, with no anomalies noted.

The pilot said the airplane was travelling slowly over his strip, about treetop height, with full flaps deployed. When he added full power to initiate a climb, the engine "sputtered" and stopped producing power. He performed a forced landing to the unimproved strip, "bounced" and departed the side of the cleared area where the airplane entered the woods and was substantially damaged.

When asked about the performance and handling of the airplane, the pilot said it was "perfect" and volunteered that the reason for the loss of engine power was carburetor ice. When asked if he had deployed the carburetor heat for the low approach and pass over his property, he said "No."

The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single engine land, and instrument airplane. His most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) second-class medical certificate was issued March 15, 2016. He reported 6,700 total hours of flight experience of which 3,400 were in the accident airplane make and model.

According to FAA records, the airplane was manufactured in 1978. Its most recent annual inspection was completed November 12, 2017, at 9,034.9 total aircraft hours.

At 1505, the weather reported at Rutherford County Airport (FQD), 7 miles east of the site, included an overcast ceiling at 2,200 ft, 10 miles visibility, and calm winds. The temperature was 10° C, the dew point was 5° C, and the altimeter setting was 29.97 inches of mercury.

According to an FAA carburetor icing probability chart, the atmospheric conditions at the time of the accident were conducive to "serious icing" at cruise power.

The wreckage was examined at the accident site by an FAA inspector and all major components were accounted for at the scene. The wings and fuselage were substantially damaged. The airplane was retained for further examination. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Manufacturer: CESSNA
Registration: N91SP
Model/Series: 172 N
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KFQD, 1078 ft msl
Observation Time: 1505 EST
Distance from Accident Site: 7 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 10°C / 5°C
Lowest Cloud Condition:
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: Calm
Lowest Ceiling: Overcast / 2200 ft agl
Visibility:  10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.97 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Union Mills, NC
Destination: Union Mills, NC

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Minor
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Minor
Latitude, Longitude: 35.490556, -82.058889 (est)

RUTHERFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WLOS) — The highway patrol confirmed Monday that a small plane crashed in a remote part of Rutherford County.

The plane went down Sunday night off of Deer Path, west of Union Mills. 

There were no injuries.

The highway patrol responded to the call just after noon Monday.

The pilot was taken to the hospital as a precaution.

The investigation has been handed over to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Story and photo ➤

Cessna 150L, N6627G: Accident occurred December 25, 2017 in Perris, Riverside County, California

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Riverside, California
Continental Motors Group; Mobile, Alabama

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board: 

Location: Perris, CA
Accident Number: WPR18LA056
Date & Time: 12/25/2017, 1325 PST
Registration: N6627G
Aircraft: CESSNA 150L
Injuries: 2 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On December 25, 2017, about 1325 Pacific standard time, a Cessna 150 airplane, N6627G, was substantially damaged when it impacted the ground during a forced landing in Perris, California. The private pilot and his passenger were not injured. The airplane was operated as a personal flight, conducted under the provision of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a flight plan was not filed for the cross-country flight, which departed San Gabriel Valley Airport (EMT), El Monte, California at 1300 and was destined for French Valley Airport, Murrieta, California.

According to the pilot, he departed EMT with about 22 gallons of fuel onboard. The pilot maintained a cruise altitude of 5,500 feet until about halfway through the flight when he experienced a total loss of engine power. He described the power loss as "smooth, but very fast." His subsequent attempts to restart the engine by pumping both the throttle and mixture, and actuating the carburetor heat were unsuccessful. During the descent he declared an emergency on the aircraft emergency frequency of the aircraft radio band, 121.5 mhz. After he selected a landing site, the pilot circled the airplane while he configured the airplane to land. He turned east at a low altitude, flew underneath a set of power lines and landed normally in a soft field. However, once the nose landing gear made contact with the ground, the airplane flipped over and came to rest inverted.

A postccident examination of the airplane by the Federal Aviation Administration revealed substantial damage to the engine firewall, engine mounts, and empennage.

The wreckage has been retained for further examination. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Manufacturer: CESSNA
Registration: N6627G
Model/Series: 150L M
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: RIV, 1536 ft msl
Observation Time: 1358 PST
Distance from Accident Site: 10 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 20°C / -17°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 4 knots, 160°
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility:  10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.07 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: EL MONTE, CA (EMT)
Destination: Murrieta, CA (F70)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 None
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 None
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 None
Latitude, Longitude: 33.789167, -117.369167

A small airplane crash landed southeast of Corona near Interstate 15 Monday, but its two occupants were uninjured.

The crash was reported at about 1:30 p.m. approximately three miles southeast of Lake Mathews and about nine miles southwest of March Air Reserve Base, according to the California Highway Patrol.

According to a CHP incident report, a Riverside County Sheriff's deputy found the aircraft upside down and both the pilot and the passenger were outside the plane unharmed.

A tweet by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Media Information Bureau said the cause of the crash was unknown.

Details on the type of airplane involved were not immediately available.

Original article can be found here ➤

Injured Rams lineman Dominique Easley takes to the sky to occupy his downtime

The Los Angeles Times' Lindsey Thiry rides along with Rams defensive lineman Dominique Easley during a flight lesson in Camarillo.

As the sun rises across Camarillo, Dominique Easley crouches beneath the wing of a small airplane parked at the local airport.

With a checklist in hand, the Rams defensive lineman inspects the flaps, takes a fuel sample and removes the chains from a Cessna 172.

Following his instructor's approval, the 6-foot-2, 273-pound Easley ducks under the wing, then climbs into the cockpit of the four-seat plane.

It's a late November morning. Fifteen miles south, Easley's teammates are arriving at the team's Thousand Oaks headquarters to prepare for a game against the Arizona Cardinals.

But Easley won't make an appearance at the facility for a few more hours.

The third-year pro sustained a season-ending knee injury in August during the first week of training camp, the third major knee injury of his college and pro career.

In the fall, Easley, 25, started flying lessons to help fill the void. He also is taking online courses from the University of Florida, has taken to the guitar and recently performed a stand-up routine at a comedy club in Los Angeles.

"I still do my rehab, still work out, everything like that," Easley says, "but I've got to bulk up my time with something."

Before he was injured, Easley was on track to play a significant role in rotation with Aaron Donald and others in coordinator Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme.

The Rams are 11-4 and have won the NFC West. They play the San Francisco 49ers this week in the season finale and then will host a first-round playoff game.

"I want to be out there playing," Easley says, "but I'm happy that we're winning."

Easley, a first-round pick in 2014 by the New England Patriots, joined the Rams last season. He was solidifying his role with new coach Sean McVay and his staff when he was injured during a non-contact play.

After undergoing an initial surgery in August and a follow-up procedure in October, Easley has watched most games from his home in Thousand Oaks.

"There would be some times when I would be watching [on television], but certain games when we would be blowing people out, I would just change it," Easley says. "The whole point of me watching it is to make sure we're winning."

NFL players who suffer season-ending injuries can be cast into somewhat of a limbo, caught between working to get back, but on the outside looking in. Some keep their distance.

But Easley has maintained a constant presence around the practice facility. He is a regular in the training room and sometimes drops by position meetings.

"You can't get rid of him," defensive line coach Bill Johnson says. "He loves being up here."

Teammates say it's been difficult for Easley to remain on the sideline.

"I know it was tough for him," Donald says. "I just try to be a friend and just give him motivation."

Receiver Tavon Austin, one of Easley's closest friends on the team, says it's good the lineman has kept himself busy with extracurricular activities. Austin had off-season wrist surgery and was sidelined for organized team activities and mini-camps.

Focusing on endeavors outside of football prevents the mind from wandering, he says.

"If you're hurt, nobody is really paying attention to you," Austin says. "You're just another guy, and I experienced that, so I definitely know."

Easley is happy filling some of that time in flight.

"I'm what you would call adventurous," he says.

So on a windy morning, he prepares to log his second flight hour. He must fly 40, including 20 with an instructor, before he can apply for a license.

His instructor, David Tushin, and a reporter join him in the plane.

"So here's oil pressure," the instructor says pointing at a gauge, "and there's oil temperature."

"Check," Easley says.

The instructor calls to the control tower and gives Easley the go-ahead to put the plane in motion.

It lurches forward as Easley steers toward the runway. He stops at the hold line at the end of the runway to perform his final cockpit checks.

Minutes later, air traffic control clears the plane for takeoff.

Easley accelerates down the runway, pulls back on the controls and the plane ascends into the turbulent sky. About 3,000 feet above the ground, he practices turns. Then his instructor takes him through an emergency drill.

Easley remains calm as he goes through an emergency checklist and prepares the plane for a crash-landing scenario. When completed, the instructor revs the engine once more, checks his watch and says it's time to return to the airport.

"I feel like when you're flying a plane, it's just more about your confidence, and I'd say it's somewhat similar to football," Easley says, adding, "as long as you are confident doing it, you'll be alright."

Donald says he's not surprised that Easley is keeping busy, but he was caught off guard by his latest venture.

"He likes to do stuff that is out-of-the-box stuff like that," Donald says. "But you know, the plane, I ain't going to lie, flying the plane I was a little surprised about that."

Easley's teammates aren't certain that they would take a ride.

"I love him to death, but I don't know if I can do that," Donald says.

Adds Austin: "He barely can drive a car, so I ain't going in no airplane with him."

Easley is in the final year of his contract with the Rams. He is making a strong recovery from injury, but his future is uncertain.

"Hopefully," he says, "I learn that soon."

It will take longer for Easley to log his flight hours and earn his pilot's license.

But that's OK with Easley.

"I'm a traveler," he says, "so I just want to get up and go wherever I want to."

Story and video ➤

Airlines’ Rising Costs Threaten to Drag on Their Profit Margins: After escalating fuel prices, the biggest cost increase airlines faced this year was for labor

The Wall Street Journal
By Susan Carey
Updated Dec. 25, 2017 2:18 p.m. ET

Airlines are paying more for fuel, labor and maintenance, drawing scrutiny from investors who fear the industry’s rising costs threaten margins during a record stretch of profitability.

Expenses at the nine largest airlines rose 8.1% in the first nine months of 2017 compared with the prior-year period, according to the Airlines for America trade group, while revenue rose 3.8%. The run-up in expenses is well above the overall U.S. inflation rate of 2.2%.

The imbalance caused the pretax margins of the nine carriers to slide to 12% in the nine-month period from 15.5% the year before. The rising unit costs—the expense to fly a seat a mile—are a worrisome trend in an industry that has a spotty record of reining in expenses.

“We think the airlines have to some extent lost focus on good cost control,” said Darryl Genovesi, an airline industry analyst at UBS.

The trend is putting pressure on airline stocks. Shares in United Continental Holdings Inc. fell 12% in a day in October when the company said its fourth-quarter costs would be at the high end of earlier forecasts and that the pressure would extend into 2018. Alaska Air Group Inc.’s shares have fallen 16% this year in part because the carrier is incurring extra costs as it completes its late 2016 takeover of Virgin America Inc., analysts said.

After rising fuel prices, the biggest cost increase airlines faced this year was worker compensation. Since late 2016, Southwest Airlines Co., United, American Airlines Group Inc. and Alaska have struck costlier labor contracts or catch-up provisions to match the pay offered by rivals. Delta Air Lines Inc. in October realigned its profit-sharing program to give non-pilot workers the same rich terms as its aviators. JetBlue Airways Corp. and Spirit Airlines Inc. are near new pilot contracts that will raise their costs.

American said the higher compensation was necessary to erase mistrust built up over the years and to turn its culture into a competitive advantage. The nation’s largest carrier also acknowledged that it has too many employees now that its takeover of US Airways Group Inc., is nearly complete, and hopes to slim down through attrition.

Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian said at an investor event Dec. 14 that he was disappointed the carrier’s unit costs, excluding fuel, are projected to rise up to 5.5% in the fourth quarter, year over year. Carriers tend to look at unit costs excluding fuel as a proxy for their core expenses that they can control.

Mr. Bastian said Delta plans to cut $1 billion in costs over the next several years and contain nonfuel cost growth to a range of flat to up 2% annually.

American, United, and JetBlue also have multiyear initiatives aimed at paring costs and finding new revenue sources. American hopes to cut $1 billion in costs over the next four years by boosting productivity, weeding out duplication and running its fleet more efficiently, Chief Financial Officer Derek Kerr said in September.

JetBlue executives said in October that they were making progress on plans to cut $300 million in costs through 2019. United a year ago said it intended to produce $4.8 billion in earnings improvements through 2020, including some $1.8 billion at the end of this year. In October, the company declined to detail its progress but said most of the initiatives are on track.

Airlines are also fighting rising costs by putting more seats on airplanes or substituting larger aircraft to spread fixed costs over more seats. The practice can bring in more revenue for only marginally higher costs, but more crowded planes and shrinking legroom aren’t popular with passengers.

U.S. airlines are still performing well overall. The industry is on track for a record eighth-straight year of profits in 2017 and executives expect more black ink next year.

But to maintain their profit margins, airlines need to contain labor expenses and follow through on cost-cutting plans, said Savanthi Syth, an analyst with Raymond James & Associates.

“When margins erode, that doesn’t fly with investors,” she said. “We can’t have another round of pay increases like we’ve had in the past two cycles.”

Original article can be found here ➤

Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport (KSTS) soars with new airline carriers in 2017

After operating for almost a decade with a sole carrier, Alaska Airlines, the Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport suddenly found itself with five in 2017.

In February, American began flying from Sonoma County to Phoenix. In July, it added a second daily flight to its Arizona hub.

Also in July, United began flights from Sonoma County to San Francisco connecting travelers to and from Wine Country to national and international flights.

Sun Country Airlines, based in Minneapolis-St. Paul, began seasonal service between Santa Rosa and the Twin Cities in August. Flights run twice weekly through December.

The Las Vegas-based low-cost airline Allegiant Airlines had began operating twice weekly flights between Santa Rosa and Las Vegas and Mesa in May 2016 but Allegiant ceased operations July 30, however, due to uneven passenger traffic.

The arrival of new carriers was the result of years of negotiations, Airport Manager Jon Stout told The Journal earlier this year.

“When Alaska was the only airlines [servicing the airport], quite a few other carriers were watching to see how good they were doing,” he said. “Then when Allegiant came, they were like, wait a minute, somebody else sees something here. And they started digging deeper. Then it kind of started to steamroll.”

All of this added service has increased passenger traffic from 339,000 in 2016, to a projected 450,000 passengers in 2017.

That’s a passenger level the airport had been planning to reach by 2025, Stout said.

And that forced the airport to quickly shift the focus from attracting carriers to expanding the infrastructure and maintaining carriers.

To accommodate the added airlines, the airport expanded its existing plans for a renovation to the terminal, as well as adding another parking lot, at an estimated to cost of $27 million.

The size of planned terminal expansion went from 19,000 square feet to about 28,000 square feet.

If the market responds well, Sun Country will try more service in the spring. If the spring season works, it would potentially look to offer service year-round, and from there, two or three flights per week, Stout said.

Also, connection times from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Boston and New York are good, so there is opportunity to use the service going further east, which has always been a goal for the airport.

“It’s going to be an interesting test, which could help us get United to go to Denver. Somebody’s got to show there’s traffic that wants to go east,” Stout said earlier this year.

Car-rental businesses at the airport are also setting records, with 25 percent increases for the past four years, and more than $6 million a year in sales, Stout said. On a busy day, each of the five agencies deals with a minimum of 150 cars.

The goal now is to facilitate the drop-off and pickup in be in the same place, making for a better customer experience and more efficient for the operators. Stout said.

That project, still at the conceptual level, will be paid for through fees paid by rental-car customers.

Story and slideshow ➤

Tucker-Guthrie Memorial Airport (I35) recovery nearly complete

The Tucker-Guthrie Memorial Airport has been undergoing a lengthy overhaul since severe winter weather did serious damage to the facility in 2014. The reconstruction work is almost done, with a new hangar and terminal building nearly completed.

Harlan County Airport Board Chairman Mark Miracle explained the completion date is about three weeks away.

“The old terminal building collapsed from the snow,” Miracle said. “This has been in the works since then.”

Miracle said the job was funded largely with insurance money.

“We tore the old one completely down and started from scratch,” Miracle said. “We have a new terminal building with a pilot’s lounge, a flight plan room, a conference room, bathrooms, showers, a kitchen and a lobby.”

Miracle said the lobby will feature a large fireplace and a big screen television.

“If a pilot flies in and drops passengers off and has to wait on them, they’ve got a place to relax,” Miracle said. “It will be real nice.”

Miracle also mentioned a fence project which is in the works.

“We just opened the bids on the fence project,” Miracle said. “It’s going to enclose around the hangar so people won’t be able to get in to where the airplanes are. We’ve had cars come up here and drive out on the runway, which is dangerous. So we’re putting a gate up and you’ll have to have a card to get access to the apron or runway.”

Miracle explained the general public will still be able to access the terminal building.

“They’re doing the finishing touches on the inside right now,” Miracle said. “The water’s on, the restrooms are open, the heat’s on, everything is basically ready.”

Miracle pointed out the airport’s apron has been expanded with new blacktop and lining.

“We put tie downs in where people can tie down airplanes outside if they want to,” Miracle said. “It goes all the way out to the runway and over to the hangars.”

Miracle explained the airport is mostly utilized by business and private pilots as well as the occasional chartered flight.

“There are not any commercial airliners that come in here,” Miracle said. “If you wanted to fly to Florida, you could charter a plane out of London or Hazard and they would fly in here and pick you up and take you wherever you wanted to go.”

Miracle said a new weather station is also going up at the airport in about 30 days.

Story and slideshow ➤

Can Alaska Air Group Regain Its Poise in 2018? Shareholders are probably wondering if an uncharacteristic performance in 2017 will continue over the next 12 months

Just when it seemed headed for a breakout year following its 2016 purchase of Virgin America, Alaska Air Group has experienced an unexpectedly rough 2017, and its share price has reacted in kind, declining over 16% year to date. Not all of this fortune reversal should be attributed directly to the carrier, as industry headwinds arose which challenged both Alaska and its close competitors. To gauge what 2018 might bring for the Seattle-based airline, let's revisit specific performance issues, as well as the industry trends that shaped the current year. 

Integration, recalibration, and arbitration

Practical difficulty and cost creep within the integration of Virgin America, which the company purchased a year ago this month, has proved Alaska's most vexing problem by far in 2017. As I discussed in a recent article on Alaska's current state, combining the two airlines has proved a more onerous task than expected, consuming a great amount of management's attention, and compressing operating margin perhaps more than investors had expected.

The task of pulling together two disparate airlines opened vulnerability to new problems during the year. As it struggled to contain costs while meeting integration timelines, the airline fell off track managing subsidiary Horizon Air during the second half of 2017.

During Alaska Airlines' most recent earnings conference call, CEO Doug Tilden explained that an industry trend of regional airline pilots leaving for mainline jobs for higher wages hit Horizon Air just as it was increasing pilot training time for new Embraer 175 aircraft. Caught off guard by a sudden pilot shortage, Horizon ended up canceling flights and temporarily reducing flight schedules, creating an estimated $25 million to $30 million headwind against Alaska Air Group's 3rd quarter 2017 revenue.

Bringing pilot wages up to par was also a focus of consolidated operations in 2017. The company received a decision in its third-party pilot wage arbitration at the end of October and has agreed to a package that increases top-of-scale Alaska Airlines pilots' wages by 16%, and top-of-scale Virgin America pilots' wages by 33%. Management reports that the net impact of this arbitration award will reach $160 million to $165 million annually, which is a bit larger than its pre-award arbitration offer of $140 million. 

The pilot wage increase has pushed up cost per available seat mile, ex-fuel, by $20 million for the remainder of the year, from a previous range of 8.35 to 8.40 cents, to a new range of 8.50 to 8.55 cents. More broadly speaking, the long-term impact of the arbitration will produce a drag on the company's operating margin of roughly 1.75 percentage points.

Industry pressures and a glimpse into 2018

Other factors that will challenge performance in 2018 aren't native to Alaska Air Group. Rising fuel costs are a common hurdle for carriers of all sizes. In 2017, Alaska's economic fuel cost (the "all in" price including refining and hedging costs) rose more than 20% to $2 per gallon -- a steep but manageable trend. 

Another industry factor, price competition among major carriers, was set into motion when United Airlines inexplicably decided to grab market share from ultra-low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines this year. This appears set to continue at least through the first few months of 2018. With a high fixed-cost structure, network and regional carriers have nothing to gain from escalating fare aggression. But Alaska has typically exhibited disciplined revenue management during such periods.

From a view at cruising altitude, none of the industry pressures or internal issues will keep Alaska from regaining its poise and beginning to improve profitability next year. The company expects that the operational integration of Virgin America will be substantially complete by mid-year 2018. From that point, investors can expect that Alaska will be able to exert tighter cost control to bring operating margin back over the 20% line. Because of the internal and external reasons we've discussed, operating margin has hovered above 18% so far this year, after clearing 25% over the first nine months of 2016.

As for revenue, a flurry of new route openings in 2017, and a more aggressive presence in California, will eventually translate into top-line momentum. Alaska has continued to expand capacity near its historic rates. As of its most recent investor update, capacity for full year 2017 (as measured in available seat miles) is expected to hit approximately 7% growth, right in line with a 20-year average.

Finally, the carrier is steadily chipping away at the $2.1 billion in debt incurred to purchase Virgin America. Through nine months of 2017, Alaska Air Group has reduced total long-term debt by $263 million, to $2.7 billion. Net debt, the difference between total debt and the sum of cash and marketable securities on hand, now stands at $961 million. Given Alaska's traditionally strong operating cash flow, it's quite possible that the airline can return to its favored zero net-debt position within two years. 

In sum, during 2017, higher merger costs than anticipated, operational hurdles, and industry headwinds combined to throw Alaska Air Group off balance. But long-term shareholders should feel quite comfortable maintaining the carrier's stock in their portfolios. And given a forward price-to-earnings ratio that has drifted down to 11.0, in line with larger, slower-growth peers such as Delta Airlines and American Airlines, Alaska's valuation should tempt those contemplating a new position in its shares.

Original article can be found here ➤

Cessna 501 Citation I/SP, N804ST, registered to and operated by Eagle II Aero LLC: Accident occurred May 23, 2016 near Texarkana Regional Airport-Webb Field (KTXK), Miller County, Arkansas

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Little Rock, Arkansas

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Texarkana, AR
Accident Number: CEN16LA197
Date & Time: 05/23/2016, 2156 CDT
Registration: N804ST
Aircraft: CESSNA 501
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Pressure/environ sys malf/fail
Injuries: 3 Minor, 1 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Executive/Corporate 

On May 23, 2016, about 2156 central daylight time, a Cessna 501, N804ST, lost cabin pressurization during cruise at flight level (FL) 430 and entered an uncontrolled descent near Texarkana, Arkansas. The pilot regained consciousness and control of the airplane. The pilot landed the airplane without further incident at Texarkana Regional Airport-Webb Field (TXK), Texarkana, Arkansas. The airplane sustained substantial damage to both wings due to the excessive aerodynamic loads on the wings during the descent/recovery. The airline transport pilot and two passengers sustained minor injuries and one passenger was uninjured. The airplane was registered to and operated by Eagle II Aero LLC under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as an executive/corporate flight that was operating on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan. Night meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The flight last departed from Perryville Municipal Airport, Perryville, Missouri (K02), about 2056, and was destined to San Antonio International Airport (SAT), San Antonio, Texas.

The airplane was flown by a single-pilot for the accident flight. According to air traffic control (ATC) radio communications, N804ST made initial contact with Memphis Center at 2056, after departing K02, to report climbing through 9,200 feet with an IFR flight plan on file. N804ST responded to all ATC transmissions while climbing to and leveling off at flight level 430, which was an altitude that was above reported cloud tops at FL 390. At 2154, Fort Worth Center called N804ST, but there was no response from N804ST. At 2155, Fort Worth Center attempted to contact N804ST three times and issued the Fort Smith altimeter. Fort Worth Center contacted Memphis Center and advised that N804ST had an "issue" and was descending. At 2156, Memphis Center instructed American Airlines flight 93 (AAL93) to attempt to contact N804ST on guard frequency. Fort Worth Center asked N804ST to IDENT; N804ST reported an explosive decompression. Fort Worth Center advised Memphis Center that they were now communicating with N804ST. At 2157, AAL93 advised Memphis Center that they were unable to contact N804ST on guard frequency. N804ST reported that the airplane was under control and would level off shortly. Fort Worth Center asked whether N804ST would like to fly to TKX or Fort Smith Regional Airport (FSM), Fort Smith, Arkansas. At 2148, the pilot of N804ST asked for a few minutes to "figure this out" and then advised he would like to land at TKX. Memphis Center advised that N804ST was located 12 o'clock and 35 miles from TKX. The pilot performed a visual approach and landing to runway 13 (5,200 by 100 feet, asphalt) at TXK, where the flight landed without further incident.

The pilot reported in a written statement that within 20 seconds, the airplane lost all cabin pressurization, and the cabin altitude climbed from 8,000 feet and 8.5 psi differential (psid) to ambient altitude and 0 psid. All the occupants lost consciousness. The pilot regained consciousness and control of the airplane at 7,000 feet.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) coordinator for the accident, the pilot stated that he was not wearing an airplane supplemental oxygen system crew mask during the flight.

Pilot Information

Certificate: Airline Transport; Commercial
Age: 58, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Multi-engine Land; Single-engine Land; Single-engine Sea
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): Glider; Helicopter
Restraint Used: Lap Only
Instrument Rating(s): Airplane; Helicopter
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): Airplane Multi-engine; Airplane Single-engine; Glider
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: Class 2 Without Waivers/Limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: 08/22/2015
Occupational Pilot: No
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: 05/11/2016
Flight Time:  15000 hours (Total, all aircraft), 5000 hours (Total, this make and model), 14800 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 50 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 20 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft), 2 hours (Last 24 hours, all aircraft) 

The pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with the following type ratings: CE-500, CE-525, CE-650, MJ-300, BE-400, G-1159, DC-3, N-P51N, N-T28, T-33. On November 15, 2014, the pilot completed single-pilot exemption training including differences training for CE-500, CE-550, and CE-560 training. The pilot's last flight review was dated May 11, 2016, using a Beechcraft BE400. The pilot reported a total flight time of 15,000 hours, of which 5,000 hours were in the make and mode of the accident airplane.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Manufacturer: CESSNA
Registration: N804ST
Model/Series: 501
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 1980
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 501-0146
Landing Gear Type: Retractable - Tricycle
Seats: 8
Date/Type of Last Inspection: 04/15/2016, Continuous Airworthiness
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 12500 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines: 2 Turbo Fan
Airframe Total Time: 7424.8 Hours as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer: Williams International Company
ELT: Installed, not activated
Engine Model/Series: FJ44-2A
Registered Owner: EAGLE II AERO LLC
Rated Power: 2300 lbs
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 

The airplane's type certificate, held by Textron Aviation Inc., shows that the Cessna 501 was certified under Part 23 with two Pratt & Whitney Aircraft of Canada, Ltd. JT15D-1A or JT15D-1B turbofan engines and had a maximum operating altitude of 41,000 feet.

The accident airplane was modified from its type design by supplemental type certificates (STCs), held by Sierra Industries Ltd., which increased the maximum operating altitude to 43,000 feet. The two STCs were:

SA732NW was for the installation of the Eagle SP performance system, including recontoured wing leading edge, wing tip extension, increased gross weight, increased fuel capacity, and other minor refinements.

ST09559AC was for the installation of Williams International Company. L.L.C. FJ44-2A engines in Cessna 501/500 aircraft or Williams International Company, L.L.C. FJ44-3A engines in Cessna Model 550/S550 aircraft. This STC increased the maximum operating altitude to 43,000 feet.

The Model 500 Maintenance Manual (Rev 39), Floor Panels – Inspection/Check called for the inspection of the air conditioning system in section D. Inspect Air Conditioning System: (1) Inspect all duct work and tubing for security of installation, evidence of damage or leakage, and (3) Inspect flapper check valves at air mixer assembly for ease of operation or evidence of binding.

The most recent maintenance inspection of the airplane was a Phase 5 inspection. A copy of the maintenance checklist used for the inspection, Model 500 Maintenance Manual (Rev 37) had the following entries: "Date:" - no entry made, "Registration Number: N804ST", "Serial Number: 501-0146", and "Total Time: 7424.8".

A Sierra Industries Ltd. Maintenance Transaction Report, dated April 15, 2016, stated, "Completed phase inspections in accordance with Cessna 500 maintenance manual chapter 5," at 7,424.8 aircraft hours, 6,411 landings, and no. 1 engine and no. 2 engine total hours were 846.8 hours and 539 cycles.

The Hobbs meter following the accident indicated 0411.3 hours.

The airplane oxygen system supplies breathing oxygen to the crew at all times and to the passengers when required. The pilot can manually drop the passenger masks by selecting manual drop on the oxygen control valve, or the passenger masks will automatically drop at 14,800 ±200 feet cabin altitude. The pilot can select crew only which will shutoff flow to the passengers. 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Night/Dark
Observation Facility, Elevation: TXK
Observation Time: 2153 CDT
Distance from Accident Site:
Direction from Accident Site:
Lowest Cloud Condition: Scattered / 9500 ft agl
Temperature/Dew Point: 23°C / 18°C
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility:  10 Miles
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 4 knots, 120°
Visibility (RVR):
Altimeter Setting: 29.94 inches Hg
Visibility (RVV):
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Perryville, MO (K02)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: IFR
Destination: San Antonio, TX (SAT)
Type of Clearance: IFR
Departure Time: 2056 CDT
Type of Airspace: 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Minor
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 2 Minor, 1 None
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 3 Minor, 1 None
Latitude, Longitude: 33.441667, -94.037778 (est) 

Post-accident examination of the airplane by the FAA coordinator revealed that the cockpit supplemental oxygen supply gauge indicated about 17 "psi x100," which was in the gauge's green arc of 16-18 psi x100.

The cockpit supplemental oxygen system switch was in the "Normal" position (which would have provided oxygen to the cabin masks). The cabin oxygen masks were not deployed. The pilot stated to the FAA coordinator that the switch was in the "Crew" position, and he did not know how or why it was in the "Normal" position. The pilot later told the FAA coordinator that he changed the oxygen switch position after the accident.

The examination revealed that the aft pressure bulkhead check valve flapper had half of its non-metallic flapper fractured into several pieces, which were resting on the fuselage floor. The second half of the check valve flapper was intact in valve body. The air conditioning system's primary pressurization duct leading to the cabin was separated from its connection with the water separator. The duct's metal worm-gear retaining clamp was resting around the duct and away from its attachment point to the separator. The clamp's retaining screw was in place. The clamp was not fractured. The clamp, the check valve, and the flapper pieces were sent to the National Transportation Safety Board Material Laboratory for examination. 

Tests And Research

Materials Laboratory Examination of Check Valve and Hose Clamp

The examination labeled the check valve flapper half pieces recovered from the fuselage floor as flapper 1, and the flapper that was intact in the valve body as flapper 2. Both flappers were fabricated from glass-filled polybutylene terephthalate (PBT). Based on the presence of an injection gate and ejection pin marks, the flappers were fabricated by injection molding. Based on unique artifacts molded into the surfaces of the flappers, both flappers were molded from the same mold cavity. Both flappers had the following number molded onto the downstream side surface, DSP 904-0012-3, and did not exhibit any other identifying marks such as a date code or mold cavity number.

Flapper 1 exhibited radially-oriented cracks originating within its approximate center; two of the primary cracks were nearly bilaterally symmetric in shape consistent with possible flow patterns and knitting in the part from the mold filling process. In all instances, the cracks initiated on the downstream side and propagated through the thickness towards the upstream side—driven primarily by bending stresses on the flapper.

One fragment from flapper 1 was selected for deeper examination, which showed the presence of networks of fine cracks (also known as surface checks, surface crazing, or craze cracks). A fine network of cracks was present adjacent to the main fracture surface. The primary fracture surface of the polymeric resin phase was smooth and glassy with hackle marks indicative of though-thickness crack propagation from the downstream side to the upstream side. The fracture surface exhibited yellow discoloration in areas along its length indicating that portions were pre-existing. Scanning electron microscope examination also revealed a fine network of secondary cracks along the second primary fracture.

The hinge fragments for flapper 1 exhibited cracks that progressed radially outward from the inside surface to the outside surface. The fracture surfaces on two of the hinge cracks exhibited yellow discoloring, consistent with progressive crack development with time (slow crack growth).

Flapper 2 exhibited a primary crack on the downstream side. A portion of one of the flapper hinges was also missing. Stereo-zoom microscopic evaluation indicated that a portion of one of the hinges fractured due to the development of a crack that initiated at the inner surface and propagated to the external surface. One of the fractures exhibited yellow discoloring, consistent with progressive crack development with time (slow crack growth).

The inside surface length of the hose clamp is about 11.1 inch and corresponds to an approximately 3.5 inch diameter. The hose clamp design is consistent with a worm gear style with a safety collared screw and perforated band manufactured by C. McGunnigle Co. Inc. Kenilworth, NJ, under the Breeze Aero Seal ® trademark. The clamp is consistent with an SAE J1508 Type F size 48 (2 9/16 to 3 1/2 diameter size range). 

Additional Information

Part 91 Regulations on the Use of Supplemental Oxygen

Part 91.211 Supplemental oxygen.

(a)General. No person may operate a civil aircraft of U.S. registry –

(b) Pressurized cabin aircraft.

(1) No person may operate a civil aircraft of U.S. registry with a pressurized cabin -

(i) At flight altitudes above FL 250 unless at least a 10-minute supply of supplemental oxygen, in addition to any oxygen required to satisfy paragraph (a) of this section, is available for each occupant of the aircraft for use in the event that a descent is necessitated by loss of cabin pressurization; and

(ii) At flight altitudes above FL 350 unless one pilot at the controls of the airplane is wearing and using an oxygen mask that is secured and sealed and that either supplies oxygen at all times or automatically supplies oxygen whenever the cabin pressure altitude of the airplane exceeds 14,000 feet mean sea level, except that the one pilot need not wear and use an oxygen mask while at or below FL 410 if there are two pilots at the controls and each pilot has a quick-donning type of oxygen mask that can be placed on the face with one hand from the ready position within 5 seconds, supplying oxygen and properly secured and sealed. 

NTSB Identification: CEN16LA197
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, May 23, 2016 in Texarkana, AR
Aircraft: CESSNA 501, registration: N804ST
Injuries: 1 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 23, 2016, about 2252, a Cessna 501, N804ST, lost cabin pressurization during cruise at flight level 430 and entered an uncontrolled descent near Texarkana, Arkansas. The pilot regained consciousness and control of the airplane about 7,000 feet mean sea level and landing without further incident. The airplane sustained substantial damage to both wings due to the excessive loads on the wings during the descent/recovery. The airline transport pilot, who was the sole occupant, was uninjured. The airplane was registered to Eagle II Aero LLC and was operated under 14 Code of Federal Regulations as a personal flight that was operating on an instrument rules flight plan. Night meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The flight last departed from Perryville Municipal Airport, Perryville, Missouri (K02) and was destined to San Antonio International Airport (SAT), San Antonio, Texas.

Post-accident examination of the airplane revealed that the primary pressurization duct into the cabin was separated from its connection to the water separator. The duct's metal retaining clamp was present with its retaining screw in place. The clamp was not fractured and was resting around the metal duct leading to the separator.