The Aviation Industry Expo took on a new flavor this year, with the AMTSociety providing the maintenance-related content and joining the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), which was in Dallas with its second annual FBO Leadership Conference. This year was the AMTSociety’s first Annual Aircraft Maintenance Summit; the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association used to hold its annual conference at AIE but is no longer part of the show. “We’re trying to build the maintenance portion of this event,” said group show director Jill Ryan. “It’s an important segment of the show.”
In addition to training sessions, the AMTSociety held a Snap-On toolbox raffle, Texas hold ’em tournament and sessions on the personnel shortage, safety management systems and technician certification.
On March 17, the day before the AIE Expo and FBO Leadership Conference, NATA held its annual Airports and FBO Symposium, which covered issues including FAA ATC modernization, general aviation security, airport viability and property leasing issues and de-icing standards.
Robert Poole, director of transportation studies and founder of the Reason Foundation, has long been a proponent of the concept of a non-profit cooperative-type corporation to run the U.S. ATC system. The current debate about how to fund the FAA and ATC modernization is “dead-on-arrival in Congress,” Poole said. The only way to move forward, he suggested, is to follow the example of Nav Canada: to remove ATC from the FAA’s operational purview but leave it as part of the Department of Transportation and make it an independent non-profit corporation.
The major advantage of making ATC independent is that Congress, which controls the money that pays for the agency, would have to vote only once to make the change to the ATC funding process. Today, Poole said, the FAA has to endure oversight by multiple government agencies and branches such as Congress, the Government Accountability Office, the DOT Inspector General and the Office of Management and Budget.
A self-supporting, independent non-profit corporation would be much easier to manage. “This is the best path to reform,” he said. “We need to separate the air traffic organization from the FAA and get it outside the budget process.” If this isn’t done, he warned, “all of aviation faces a huge problem. Rationing will be quite likely.” And the NextGen air traffic control system “is likely to be very late if we don’t have better governance,” he added.
“It’s not helpful to rely on the experience of other countries,” said NATA president James Coyne. Canada isn’t a good comparison because it doesn’t share the U.S.’s congestion problems at the New York-area airports and the same general aviation issues. The ATC system costs the FAA $15 billion a year, according to Coyne, but using technology properly could reduce this figure to $1 billion a year and lead to lower fuel costs due to more efficient routing. “The incentive is to lower costs for aviation and guarantee its future,” he said.
During the Airports and FBO Symposium session on security, the Transportation Security Administration’s Michal Morgan outlined plans for new security programs that will affect general aviation security. Morgan, general manager of the TSA office of general aviation, said that the secure FBO program that is under way at two Signature Flight Support FBOs, in Anchorage, Alaska, and Shannon, Ireland, will soon be supplemented with three new locations. Secure FBO seeks to identify passengers before the airplane departs, and the TSA is working with NATA on a positive pilot identification program that would work before takeoff and in flight, she said.
Morgan’s office is also working on security action items, which are best-practices guides that she hopes will be available soon for the general aviation industry. The TSA doesn’t want just to provide guidelines but wants to measure how the industry uses them. Without feedback, the TSA has no way of knowing to what extent the industry is adopting security procedures. Airports are going to have to undergo vulnerability assessments by August 3, and the TSA is developing tools to conduct those assessments, Morgan said.
The industry should prepare for the TSA’s upcoming large aircraft security program (LASP), which will impose security requirements on Part 91 aircraft. The TSA is working with other countries to try to harmonize the LASP requirements, Morgan said.
“LASP is very much on the [TSA] secretary’s radar,” said Eric Byer, NATA vice president of government and industry affairs, and this will “soon affect everybody in this room.” To help the industry deal with the TSA actions and plans, NATA will post the latest security information on www.nata.aero. The TSA also encourages industry feedback and has posted a blog where people can provide input (www.tsa.gov/blog).
FBOs continue to face problems obtaining reasonable lease terms from airports, and this subject is always popular at the airports symposium. While federally funded airports must abide by grant assurances, these are vague, according to Dan Reimer, partner at law firm Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell. “They only get meaning by later interpretation.”
When it comes to disputes over lease terms, said Paul Meyers, principal in charge, Aviation Management Consulting Group, “I don’t think litigation is helpful. The FAA doesn’t dictate lease terms.” What the FAA does recommend is that airports update the minimum standards that govern what services and facilities airport businesses must provide. This can help clarify another issue, where some airports are taking operation of ground-handling services away from businesses. While, he added, “private enterprise can do anything better and faster than the government, sometimes the government gets in a position where the FBO is not responsive. We’re seeing this in ground handling. What is an airport to do if [private business] is not meeting the need?”
NATA’s Byer summed up the association’s viewpoint on the ground handling problem in a later meeting on legislative issues. “We think ground service providers should have a fair shake,” he said.
Fuel providers at AIE noted that avgas sales continue to drop while the volume of jet fuel deliveries is somewhat stable. Jet fuel volumes have dropped in the Northeast U.S., according to Mark Haynes, Avfuel vice president of sales west, but have risen in the rest of the country. “Corporations are looking at fuel costs,” he said.
“The world is demanding more energy,” said Avfuel president and CEO Craig Sincock at a session focusing on evolving business models. “But there is some good news. We’re in a wonderful industry. The Internet was supposed to reduce face-to-face meetings, but that didn’t quite happen.”
• Among the most interesting displays at AIE 2008 was the Hammonds Omni Directional Vehicle (ODV), a round tug available in 18,000- to 90,000-pound capacity sizes. The ODV has a radiated hitch, which means that the tow hitch revolves around the circular tug. Invented by company founder Carl Hammonds, the ODV solves one of the biggest problems with towing aircraft: finding maneuvering room to change the angle of push or pull.
The ODV mimics pushing or pulling a small aircraft using a hand towbar. With a hand towbar, you can turn the towbar to the desired angle without having to move the aircraft. With a traditional tug, it’s impossible to change the towbar angle without the tug being in motion first. The ODV can spin to the desired angle before moving back or forth.
• The new online NATA Professional Line Service Training (PLST) is going live in the middle of this month. PLST consists of eight modules, and users can pay per module or for the whole package. Current NATA Safety 1st participants can buy the eight-module online PLST for $299 per person, which drops to $189 for 11 or more users, with no enrollment fee. To buy individual modules, users must pay a $100 enrollment fee per user plus $30 per module for one to three users or $18 per module for more than 11 users.
• This year, the AMTSociety held its first Annual Aircraft Maintenance Summit, featuring inspection authorization renewal seminars held in a venue on the exhibit floor so technicians could spend time viewing exhibits between sessions.
The AMTSociety also launched the Maintenance Skills Competition for teams and individuals to compete for prizes in 11 different events, such as safety wiring, hardware identification, windshield repair and composites inspection.
• Rapco Fleet Support has introduced new FAA-PMA-approved brakes for the Falcon 20. Rapco’s FAA-approved business jet and business and regional turboprop brakes offer up to 40 percent more cycles than original manufacturer brakes, according to Rapco, and have “influenced OEM prices to plummet.” In addition to the Falcon 20, Rapco offers PMA brakes for the Hawker 600, 700 and 800 series and King Air 90, 100, 200 and Beech 99 and 1900, some Cessna Citations, Learjet 25/31/35/36, Fairchild Metro, Jetstream 31 and Embraer Brasilia.
Training provider Global Jet Services is launching its first online maintenance training course in June, covering aging aircraft wiring. The course will deliver the wiring instruction using 3-D animation and interactive features, according to president J.D. McHenry.