2005 Newsmakers

 - October 11, 2006, 10:18 AM

It’s that time of year when AIN’s editors reflect on the people and events that captured our attention in the past year and inspired the thousands of manuscript pages that filled our issues in 2005. Last year, as in most other years, business aviation garnered both positive and negative attention. Some high-profile accidents this year captured the nation’s interest; a crash at TEB intensified the scrutiny of the charter industry, while a landing accident showed pilots who did what they were trained to do and handled an emergency with aplomb. The biggest news of the year was Hurricane Katrina, to which bizav operators responded valiantly.

Challenger crash sends ripples across industry
When the Challenger 600 operated by Platinum Jet Management crashed on takeoff from Teterboro Airport in February last year, the impact sent ripples through the on-demand charter industry that are still being felt.

The accident occurred when the pilot of the aircraft, which was operated for compensation and hire and therefore subject to Part 135 regulations, chose to abort the takeoff. The airplane had failed to become airborne and left the end of the runway, crashed through a fence, crossed a busy highway and came to a stop when it hit the brick wall of a warehouse building.

The FAA later grounded Fort Lauderdale-based  Platinum Jet and subsequently hit its owners with civil penalties totaling more than $1.86 million for multiple violations of Part 135 regulations. The parties were scheduled to meet December 20 to discuss the matter.

The Department of Transportation alleged that BlueStarJets of New York City, which had brokered the ill-fated flight, had “misrepresented the quality of service and safety record of the companies with which it arranged air transportation services” and ordered it to pay a civil penalty of $100,000.

In June last year, the FAA issued a notice to all FSDO inspectors directing them to contact each air carrier they oversee “to make sure that these carriers understand their obligations to maintain operational control of flights.”

A little more than five months after the notice to FSDO inspectors, the FAA issued a new wet-lease policy guidance proposal prompted by the Teterboro crash. The administration noted that, “In some cases air carriers have evidently allowed aircraft owners and lessees who hold no commercial certificates to conduct operations under auspices of the air carrier’s certificate and, in a few cases, falsely holding themselves out to the public as air carriers themselves.”

To date, the NTSB has not released a final determination of the cause of the accident, and a $12.5 million lawsuit filed by a motorist against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey remains in litigation. –K.J.H.

Luís Carlos Affonso, Embraer business aviation division
Luís Carlos Affonso made his entrance into the business aviation market at the Latin American Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition in São Paulo, Brazil, last spring.

It was there that Embraer announced plans to build on the success of its Legacy business jet version of the EMB-135 regional jet with two new airplanes designed specifically for the business jet market–one in the very light jet category and another in the light jet category. They are the Phenom 100 and Phenom 300, respectively. “We plan to become a major player in executive aviation within the next 10 years,” declared Embraer president and CEO Mauricío Botelho.

At the same time, Botelho introduced Affonso as his choice to lead the newly formed executive aviation division responsible for business-aviation product strategies, marketing, sales and customer support.

Affonso had previously headed Embraer’s successful development of the 170 and 190 single-aisle jetliners as program director. Managing the new business aircraft division was a natural progression, said a company source. The same engineering team that worked on the regional jet program is already in transition to the new executive aviation division.

At the NBAA Convention in Orlando two months ago it was Botelho who introduced the launch of the new light and very light business jets and Affonso who unveiled a mockup of the Phenom 300.

Embraer has earmarked $235 million for the new VLJ and light jet programs, and
Affonso expects to announce partners in the two projects in the coming months.
Brazilian-born Affonso is a product of his country’s education system, with an aeronautical engineering degree from the Technological Institute of Aeronautics in São Paulo and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of São Paulo. He is a private pilot and glider pilot instructor. –K.J.H.

Ed Swearingen’s jet dream comes true
The late-October certification of the Sino Swearingen SJ30-2 completes Ed Swearingen’s 23-year crusade to deliver a more efficient business jet. He began designing the twinjet in 1982 after studying the business jets available at the time. Swearingen quickly focused on aircraft operating economics, something he found lacking in business jet designs despite Boeing’s and Airbus’s attention to this detail in their airliner designs.

After pitching the idea to various OEMs, Swearingen told AIN that Lockheed executives liked his SA-30 business jet. Unfortunately, the company’s board of directors didn’t have the appetite for civil aircraft after losing money on its JetStar business jet and L-1011 TriStar widebody airliner, so the board nixed the idea of backing the SA-30.

In fall 1988, Swearingen partnered with Gulfstream on the SA-30 Gulfjet. At the same time, Williams International and Rolls-Royce signed an agreement to provide the 1,900-pound-thrust FJ44 engine for the Gulfjet. First flight at that time was expected in 1990.

However, the marriage between Swearingen and Gulfstream was short-lived. In September 1989 the partnership was abruptly terminated, with Gulfstream saying only that the SA-30 didn’t fit into its long-term plans.

One month later, Ed Swearingen partnered with investor Doug Jaffe, and the aircraft was renamed the SJ30. Both claimed at the time that no outside funding was needed to get the aircraft flown and certified.

On Feb. 13, 1991, the SJ30 made its maiden flight and by that fall the prototype had logged more than 100 hours. But funding became an issue and the jet sat idle in a hangar until further investment could be found.

In the mid-1990s, Ed Swearingen found a Taiwanese suitor, and in 1995 the company became known as the Sino Swearingen Aircraft Company. In 1996 the aircraft design incorporated 2,300-pound-thrust FJ44-2A engines, allowing a stretch and redesignation as the SJ30-2.

The SJ30-2 has a long and storied history of flight testing under the Sino Swearingen banner–including a fatal crash in 2003 during flutter trials, killing test pilot Carroll Beeler–that finally culminated in FAA approval this year. As Sino Swearingen prepares to deliver its first aircraft, Ed Swearingen’s dream of a more efficient business jet is finally coming true. –C.T.

GA pilot violates restricted airspace

In an age when $200 on eBay can buy a portable GPS that depicts restricted airspace, it’s difficult to comprehend how a pilot could violate the deepest reaches of the most sacrosanct airspace in North America. But 69-year-old Hayden “Jim” Shaeffer unwittingly flew his flying club’s Cessna 150 within three miles of the White House last May, while attempting to navigate from Smoketown (Pa.) Airport to a Lumberton, N.C. fly-in.

With his student-pilot passenger, Shaeffer was intercepted by fighters and Black Hawk helicopters. The Cessna was perilously close to being shot down before
Shaeffer finally established radio contact and diverted to Frederick (Md.) Municipal Airport, home to the headquarters of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Meanwhile, thousands of government employees evacuated their offices due to the airspace intrusion. President Bush was not at the White House at the time.

The incident made national news for several days and tarnished the public perception of general aviation pilots at all levels. Shaeffer’s misadventure might have contributed to an effort to render permanent the temporary Washington-area air defense identification zone, which has been in place since 9/11. Also, the intrusion came at a time when business aviation interests were lobbying for re-admittance to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, access that has since been granted but so heavily restricted that there are few takers.

Shaeffer initially appealed the revocation of his pilot certificate but gave up his appeal when the FAA ruled he could reapply for his ticket in 10 months. –M.P.

Patrick Goudou, European Aviation Safety Agency
Taking on a task that everyone has long agreed needs doing doesn’t always make one popular. Patrick Goudou is the soft-spoken but resolute French official with the unenviable job of leading the establishment of the long-awaited and much-vaunted European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

In a rare outbreak of unity, the aviation industry has for years insisted that such a body is needed if the continent is ever to have harmonized rules and a coherent process for ensuring air safety. But does this mean they have rallied squarely behind Monsieur Goudou and his under-resourced team as they try to forge the new regime?

Heck no. In raucous harmony with some of the more vociferous national aviation authorities that they formerly lambasted, some industry figures have joined the chorus of carping, taking pot-shots at executive director Goudou’s steadfast attempts to build the EASA’s authority and its capabilities since its inception in September 2003.

But in the face of seemingly self-serving sniping by the industry and national aviation authorities (scrambling to protect their own turf), Goudou has impressed others with his determination to keep the EASA project on track. He welcomed the European Commission’s announcement in November that EASA’s responsibilities are to be extended by next year to incorporate aircraft operations, flight crew licensing and the oversight of third-country (non-European) airlines.

Goudou spent 10 years testing aircraft engines for the French government’s General Delegation for Armaments, so he can cope with an ungodly noise, and he appears to have the tenacity to see through the long but essential process of building the EASA as Europe’s answer to the FAA.

Few disagree that the EASA is stymied by having–of legal necessity–emerged from the European Union’s byzantine complex of political and administrative structures. But Goudou, who appears to be an able pragmatist, is boosting the agency’s body of experts and refining the new processes that are being introduced to meet the goals of clear and consistent air safety regulation. –C.A.

Kathleen Blouin, NBAA senior v-p, conventions, seminars and forums
Kathleen Blouin spent the night of August 28 glued to her television as Hurricane Katrina barreled toward New Orleans. She knew that a direct hit on the fragile city could spell disaster. Uppermost in her mind–and in the minds of other NBAA staffers–were thoughts of the upcoming convention, scheduled to be held there in a little more than two months.

“Total fear,” was how Blouin described her emotions as Katrina bore down on the Louisiana Gulf Coast, an unstoppable wrecking ball of destruction. As NBAA senior vice president for conventions, seminars and forums, Blouin oversees all aspects of the annual convention. Katrina would complicate the job vastly.

Scrambling to find a new venue, Blouin and her staff managed to secure a spot for the show in Orlando by rescheduling the convention a week earlier than planned and agreeing to hold it in the new North/South Hall adjacent to the main convention center. Blouin personally oversaw the effort of transferring the show to the new location, including rearranging a giant jigsaw puzzle of more than 1,000 exhibiting companies needing space.

In spite of the hurried changes, the show drew an impressive turnout, with a final tally of 28,796 registered attendees, exceeding the 28,574 attendees registered at the previous Orlando convention in 2003. A record 1,142 exhibiting companies set up shop for the show, and Blouin said the configuration of the North/South Hall was so well received that the convention will be held in that building when the show returns to Orlando in October.

As for the 2008 convention scheduled for New Orleans, Blouin said she will visit the beleaguered city this month to see the rebuilding effort for herself. At this point, she said, NBAA has every intention of holding the show in the Big Easy as planned. –S.P.

Ben Bartel, Fairchild Dornier
Not often do AIN’s Newsmakers make the annual list by getting arrested, but the contrast between Ben Bartel’s grand vision for Fairchild Dornier and the ultimate reality proved too stark to leave unmentioned. For not only did the supremely confident Bartel fail to return Fairchild Dornier to viability, the circumstances surrounding the company’s collapse have once again raised the specter of legal impropriety.

After buying the company out of bankruptcy, Bartel trumpeted plans to rejuvenate a client base disillusioned by poor customer support, add hundreds of workers to Bavaria’s flagging employment rolls and restart the 328Jet assembly line by last January. Two years later the company had fallen back into bankruptcy and Bartel stood at the center of a German investigation into suspected tax fraud.

On July 27 German police arrested Bartel at Frankfurt International Airport on suspicion that he evaded E7 million ($8.53 million) in taxes. Although authorities released Bartel within two weeks, Munich attorney general Ruediger Hödl told AIN that the investigation will continue at least into this month and that the former Fairchild Dornier principal owner remains a suspect.

Hödl said he could not discuss the specifics of the case until he hands down an indictment. However, the case appears to involve a transaction in the Cayman Islands, where Bartel established a subsidiary to buy 12 used Dornier 328 turboprops from Fairchild Dornier bankruptcy administrators and lend the tax-free proceeds to AvCraft’s assembly plant in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany.

Bartel first disclosed the plan publicly while talking with reporters at the 2003 Farnborough Air Show, at which time he said his lawyers assured him of its legality. In fact, only after Fairchild Dornier filed for insolvency did any suspicion of wrongdoing come to light.

Now, as creditors clamor for at least partial repayment of their accounts, Fairchild Dornier’s bankruptcy administrator has ended all attempts to sell the company intact. Recently, UK executive charter operator Club328 agreed to buy the 328Jet’s type certificate and assume responsibility for product support. No other companies have surfaced as serious bidders for Fairchild Dornier’s manufacturing assets. –G.P.

Anthony Coscia, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Capping the number of annual operations is politics as usual at European airports, but the practice is distinctly un-American, and business aviation users of Teterboro (N.J.) Airport (TEB) are worried.

Anthony Coscia is chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport, along with the three major airline airports in the New York metro area–JFK International, Newark Liberty International and La Guardia. Coscia has said he will use “whatever means necessary” to limit growing traffic at Teterboro, the closest general aviation airport to Manhattan and one of the busiest in the country.

In October, Coscia announced plans to cut back traffic at TEB by 10 percent through a combination of increased landing fees, voluntary nighttime cargo-flight cutbacks (based in large part on a recent ruling allowing electronic transfer of bank records), a Stage 2 ban and a weight limit of 80,000 pounds–down from the current 100,000-pound limit. The PANYNJ position is that those restrictions should achieve the 10-percent reduction in traffic without resorting to outright limitations on operations. But at a meeting of the Teterboro Users Group (TUG), members expressed fear of draconian cutbacks on their flying.

While Coscia has cited a 10-percent figure, Congressman Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) has loudly voiced his ambition for a 25-percent cutback in traffic at the airport, which is located amid some of the most densely populated acreage in the country. Of particular concern is the 80,000-pound limit, in part because it would use an aircraft’s mtow as its standard, rather than operating weight as does the current 100,000-pound limit. Lowering the limit to 80,000 pounds would eliminate all ultra-long-range business jets, such as the Gulfstream G550 and GV-SP the Bombardier Global Express and Global 5000.

Airport manager Lanny Rider told the TUG members, “The chairman [Coscia] is a very intelligent man. He understands the criticality of this airport for the local economy and the national airspace system, and has decided that the changes he proposes represent the best for long-term traffic management at the airport. He wants to effect demonstrable change at the airport, and he wants to do it quickly.” –M.P.

J.L. “Ted” Naimer, Universal Avionics Systems Corp. president and CEO
Although the November certification of the Vision 1 synthetic-vision system (SVS) in the King Air 350 put Universal Avionics president and CEO J.L. “Ted” Naimer firmly on AIN’s top newsmakers list for 2005, the 56-year-old son of company founder Hubert Naimer might have made the list even without this milestone achievement.
The younger Naimer has operated behind the scenes of the Tucson, Ariz. company since its creation in 1981, taking the helm after his father’s death in 2004. Since then, Ted Naimer has been a guiding force, developing and honing ideas for a host of new products.

Naimer lives in Switzerland, where he is also president of the holding company that controls the other family business, Krauss & Naimer, the nearly 100-year-old Swiss switch maker. Besides holding master’s degrees in electrical engineering and business administration, he is also a high-time pilot who learned to fly at 17 and routinely occupies the left seat in the company Challenger 600.

Naimer said he presented the idea for Vision 1 to his father some years ago during development of the company’s terrain awareness and warning system. Universal’s SVS is the first developed specifically for business aircraft to be certified. He said he became interested in the technology (which presents a synthetic, video-game-like view of terrain on a flight display) based on his years of experience flying into mountainous European airports.

Although Part 23 certification of Vision 1 is an important achievement, approval in Part 25 airplanes will be a tougher challenge. Naimer said some within the FAA are opposed to bringing the technology to large business jets, but he added that flight demonstrations have helped change perceptions over time. The company hopes to receive an STC for Vision 1 in the Challenger 600 in the coming months, he said. –S.P.

Nike GV crew solves gear malfunction with aplomb
The November 21 maiden flight of N225GV, Nike’s recently acquired 2002 Gulfstream V, ended uneventfully, but not as originally planned.

Carrying Nike president and CEO William Perez, four other Nike executives, two pilots and a flight attendant, the twinjet took off from Nike’s headquarters in Hillsboro, Ore., for an intended trip to Toronto. But as the landing gear was being raised, the crew got an EICAS alert that the right main gear door had not retracted. “We cycled the gear down and at that point we got a right main gear not down and a red handle,” pilot David Newton told AIN. Now the crewmembers knew they had a bigger issue, although they did not immediately know that the gear was jammed halfway down.

When yawing maneuvers to swing the gear free didn’t work, Newton, using CRM to its fullest, initiated a “giant conference call” with other members of the flight department and Gulfstream engineers and pilots in Savannah. On their advice, Newton repeated the yawing maneuvers, but to no avail. A low pass by the tower revealed that the wheel was resting on the door. Digital photos were taken on a second low pass and copies transmitted to Gulfstream, where it was determined that the gear and gear door got out of sequence and the gear wouldn’t lower because hydraulic pressure was pushing the gear door against the wheel.

Said Newton, “We shut down the left engine to remove hydraulic pressure from the landing gear. Then from about 16,000 feet we pitched down and accelerated to 250 knots before pitching to about 20 degrees nose-up. We let the airspeed drop down to about 180 knots, pushed the airplane over the top for a negative-g maneuver and sideslipped down the right side, which freed the gear.”

Newton emphasized that the crew made a special effort to keep the passengers in the loop. “That is probably the most powerful thing that I learned out of this–keeping the passengers involved in what’s going on kept them calm, cool and collected.”

Speaking to the media some 45 minutes after landing, a composed Perez praised the crew–pilot Newton, copilot Blair Gammon and flight attendant Melody Peters–for their calmness, the professional job they did in handling the incident and for keeping the passengers completely informed “every step of the way.” –G.G.

James May, Air Transport Association
Business aviation has confronted the specter of user fees before, but this time it’s different. The reason it’s different this time around is that, rather than squabbling among themselves (legacy carrier versus low-cost carrier) as in past wrangling over the prospect of user fees, the airlines are now united in their assertion that business aviation is not paying its way when it uses the national airspace system.

The airlines are insisting that operators of business aircraft should pay fees for their share of the FAA’s airspace and airport costs. They also believe that business aviation is poaching their most lucrative customers; the “poachers” in turn believe that the airlines have no one to blame but themselves after years of “sticking it” to the business traveler with ever declining service and ever more manipulative fare tactics.

From business aviation’s perspective, if there is a villain in this play it has to be James May, president of the airlines’ lobbying group, the Air Transport Association. May has been leading the movement to slap business aviation with user fees by asserting that the airlines pay 90 percent of the costs but use only 70 percent of the service. Business aviation has dug in by retorting that it already pays for the services it uses in the form of a fuel tax.

Working in the airlines’ favor is an alignment of fiscal planets that has both the FAA’s current authorization and the aviation excise tax authorization expiring on September 30 next year. “User fees could take effect on that date,” notes NBAA president Ed Bolen, who adds, “I consider this probably the greatest threat to the future of business aviation that I’ve seen during my 10 years as part of the community.”

NBAA is urging anyone involved in business aviation to get involved in fighting this onslaught by writing to their elected representatives. It is indeed shaping up to be a serious slugfest with much at stake. –N.M.

NY Tracon controllers
Topping (or should that be bottoming?) the 2005 underachievers list were the air traffic controllers at the New York Tracon, where 25 percent of the incumbents
reportedly earned more than $200,000 per year, or roughly $8,000 less than the U.S. Vice President.

Under a unique union staffing schedule, New York controllers worked three hours and 39 minutes during an eight-hour shift, significantly less than controllers at any other Tracon, according to an independent audit team called in by the FAA, but “understaffed,” according to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA).
As a result of the union schedule, overtime at the NY Tracon reached an average of $3.6 million per year, compared with $21,000 per year using the approach that other Tracons employ. Nonetheless, the audit team uncovered instances of controllers illegally “gaming” the system to get yet more overtime pay.

Health and stress issues also arose at the Tracon, where controllers consistently used more than 100 percent of their sick leave. Stress–for which a doctor’s certificate is not required–also took a significant toll. At the NY Tracon, controllers claimed 3,030 hours of Workers Compensation for job-related stress in the first 14 weeks of last year. During the same period, combined stress-related absences from the
Potomac, Atlanta, Southern California, Northern California and Chicago Tracons totaled 504 hours.

NATCA President John Carr said, “The FAA has created this chaos by its own hand. It has understaffed the facility.” The FAA responded that with 225 controllers, “the facility is more than adequately staffed,” and pointed out that 170 controllers could operate the Tracon safely, under proper scheduling.

In December, the FAA said contract talks with NATCA were deadlocked over union demands on pay, scheduling and work rules and called for federal mediation. The FAA stated that controller pay has increased by 74 percent since the last contract in 1998. Nevertheless, the union reportedly wants a 5.6-percent pay increase every year for the next four years, a seven-hour workday and–presumably for their New York brethren–50 percent more sick leave. –A.W.

Private equity investors eye FBO industry
For all independent FBO owners who have slaved long years to build a successful business selling jet-A, now might be the time to cash in your chips and book that extended vacation to Tahiti. The past year has seen a dynamic expansion of a trend. Private equity funds have found a lot to like in the FBO business, and their buying habits have reflected that favor.

Cliff Runge was part-owner and day-to-day manager of Aspen (Colo.) Base Operation for 21 years before Trajen FBO Network, backed by private-equity firm CapStreet, made an offer that was too good to pass up. Though terms were not disclosed, a source close to the deal told AIN that the selling price was well above 12 to 14 times the FBO’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).

Other private equity firms known to be enamored of FBOs include the Carlyle Group (backing recently renamed Landmark Aviation) and Centre Partners, which bankrolled Ross Aviation in its acquisitions of FBOs in Denver; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Santa Fe, N.M. Also on the FBO finance bandwagon is Macquarie Group U.S., the North American operating arm of financial giant Macquarie Bank of Australia.

Who is the money behind private equity funds and why are they so interested in FBOs? At a panel hosted by NATA during its annual convention last year, several representatives from private equity firms agreed that their investors–often wealthy individuals looking for greater returns (and risks) than are available on the stock market–seek out industries that are “fragmented” with large numbers of independent operators.

The theory is that a chain of 20 to 40 or more FBOs can be run more efficiently through economies of scale in accounting, human resources, billing and other areas. Private equity investors also anticipate improved buying power when it comes to negotiating prices on fuel and other commodities as well as operating necessities such as insurance and legal services. –M.P.

Grob springs June jet surprise
German airframer Grob had been quietly plotting a new business jet since January 2004. In an industry where news tends to leak swiftly, the company and its partners miraculously managed to keep the entire project a secret for 18 months until it launched the Grob SPn Utility Jet–seemingly out of thin air–at the June 2005 Paris Air Show, where AIN was the first to reveal full details of the program.

Grob had patiently kept its powder dry as all the new light jet contenders bragged about how they are going to change the face of business aviation, while it refined an all-composite design that it says will replace Raytheon’s ubiquitous Beech King Air twin turboprops. With supersized landing gear, the SPn also promises to trump the new-generation jets by hauling more payload and reaching airfields that they can’t access.

Within a month of unveiling the first prototype at the Paris show, Grob had achieved the SPn’s first flight at its headquarters near Munich. Since then, the program has logged more than 60 flight hours as it heads for European certification in the first quarter of next year, with first deliveries of the $7.1 million twinjet to follow during the second quarter.

Early this year a second prototype aircraft is to join the flight-test program. According to a company spokesman, Grob and its main partner ExecuJet Aviation are now evaluating “qualified” product support organizations and are likely to announce initial Grob SPn service providers by the end of the second quarter of this year.

The group says it has secured an unspecified number of firm orders for the aircraft, with interest coming from traditional corporate flight departments, private individuals and special-missions operators such as those in the emergency medical flight sector. –C.A.

Two deadstick landings in one year?
These days, an unintentional in-flight engine shutdown is a rare event, thanks to the high reliability of turbine engines. Dual flameouts are even more rare, which is why the two dual flameouts involving business jets last year made news. But they weren’t just dual flameouts; both twinjets landed deadstick and, incredibly, with no reported injuries to those on board.

On September 30, a University of North Dakota (UND) Citation II research jet made an emergency landing near Beaver, Alaska, after both engines flamed out at 9,200 feet in clouds. Unable to accomplish an airstart, pilot Paul DeHardy maneuvered the aircraft to a successful emergency landing in a “fairly clear, burned area” 70 miles north of Fairbanks, Alaska.

The airplane, which DeHardy intentionally put down gear up during the emergency landing, sustained damage to the wings, fuselage and empennage. The two crewmembers and two researchers, one of whom works for Sikorsky Aircraft, aboard the Citation were uninjured in the accident. UND said the mission involved certifying a helicopter, the Sikorsky S-92, in icing conditions when the Citation’s engines quit following a “loud bang” several minutes after the de-ice boots were cycled to shed accumulated ice.

“Given the weather conditions and the formidable terrain in Alaska, the safe landing without injury was a remarkable display of airmanship on the part of the pilot,” said Bruce Smith, dean of UND’s Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

About two months later, on November 28, the crew of a Flight Options Beechjet 400A (N691TA) experienced a double engine flameout at FL380 on a positioning flight from Indianapolis International Airport to Marco Island Airport, Fla. According to the NTSB, the unidentified Beechjet crewmembers subsequently made two restart attempts and an air-start attempt before deadsticking the twinjet to a safe landing at Jacksonville International Airport in Florida.

An eyewitness who has previous Beechjet experience told AIN that N691TA landed on Jacksonville’s Runway 7 and stopped at Taxiway G, about 6,500 feet down the runway. A Jacksonville airport spokesman confirmed this information and said that, several days after the NTSB examined the fractional aircraft, the twinjet was serviced at Signature and departed without further incident. Flight Options confirmed only that one of its aircraft was involved in an incident on November 28.

This marks the second such Beechjet duel flameout at the Cleveland-based fractional provider. On July 12, 2004, both engines of a Flight Options Beechjet 400A (N455CW) flamed out over the Gulf of Mexico with seven passengers aboard. The crew of N455CW was able to restart the right engine and safely divert to Sarasota, Fla. The NTSB said in January that N455CW had a lower-than-normal amount of anti-icing additive in its tanks. Beechjet 400As are not equipped with fuel heaters.

The NTSB is still investigating last year’s two flameouts, as well as the
2004 incident. –C.T.

Satellite weather changes everything
Nexrad weather data, either down- or uplinked to an aircraft, has been around for several years, but narrow bandwidths and spotty reception had limited traffic on that information “highway” to a trickle.

When the team at XM Satellite Radio linked up with WxWorx, all that changed. It is now possible to count on receiving advanced weather products from WxWorx every five minutes on an array of panel-mounted avionics displays–and even on handheld devices such as the Garmin GPS396. More than one owner-pilot has commented that the availability of so much weather information is the most significant development for aviation since GPS.

Robert Baron is an avid pilot and president of WxWorx. But Baron is the first to insist on sharing the credit for this development with XM Satellite Radio president and CEO Hugh Panero, XM’s chief programming officer (and Cirrus owner) Lee Abrams and all their colleagues–including the Innovation Team based in Deerfield Park, Fla., a sort of XM Radio skunkworks where new applications of the technology are developed.

A Piper Cheyenne I owner with whom AIN talked has recently installed an Avidyne EX500 multifunction display with XM Satellite weather. For the $50-per-month subscription fee, he receives updates every five minutes on Nexrad weather radar graphics, satellite mosaic depiction, echo tops, winds aloft and on the surface, lightning, storm cells, metars, TAFs, airmets, sigmets, TFRs, freezing levels and forecasts. (For an additional $12.95 per month, pilots can also receive XM’s 120 radio channels, including music, comedy, talk and sports.)

But even the devotees at WxWorx and XM Satellite Radio caution pilots that the five- to 10-minute lag time can be dangerous. Weather can move quickly, and storm cells can form and build rapidly, so the data is best used for strategic planning only, not as a means of maneuvering through a line of dangerous convective activity. –M.P.

Ronald Reagan Washington National: No longer closed to general aviation
Although Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) was ceremoniously reopened to some limited general aviation operations on October 18, the response from the industry has been underwhelming.

After the first arrival taxied under the arcs from two water cannons shortly after dawn, one other chartered GA aircraft used DCA later that day. By all accounts, there has been a paucity of GA activity.

The initial general aviation flight was a Hawker 1000 operated by New World Jet for Jet Aviation, which had flown into Washington National from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. After the Hawker taxied to Signature Flight Support, the first passenger to debark was National Air Transportation Association president Jim Coyne, whose association, with NBAA, spearheaded the drive to return GA to DCA after a four-year-long absence in the wake of 9/11.

The dignitaries from the aviation industry, Congress and the federal government who greeted the flight characterized it as a “giant first step,” but general aviation activity at DCA remains a pale shadow of its former self. In 2000, Reagan National handled 44,592 general aviation flights, an average of 122 a day.

Under current Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines, 48 general aviation flights are permitted each day. All inbound flights must originate from one of 12 gateway airports where the crew, passengers, baggage and aircraft undergo TSA-approved scrutiny. Each flight also must carry a TSA-approved armed security officer.

Lawmakers on hand for the inaugural flight indicated they would work to further reduce some of the stringent requirements for GA operations at DCA. “You have to walk before you can run,” said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). “This is a first step.” –P.L.

Check out the complete '2005 Newsmakers' (PDF)