February 26, 2010 - Aviation and Airport Development Updates

February 26, 2010 - A summary review of Aviation and Airport Development related news and information that was made public during the past ten days.  Trisha Ton-Nu also contributed to this post. If you would like to receive this update in an e-mail delivered to your inbox every week, please send an e-mail to subscribe@calairlaw.com with the word “subscribe” in the subject line.

 

Watchdog Finds Aircraft Maintenance Problems at American Airlines, Calls FAA Oversight Weak. --- Joan Lowy, Associated Press, February 18, 2010
According to a report released Thursday by the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General, the Federal Aviation Administration’s lax oversight of aircraft maintenance at American Airlines raises concerns about the agency’s ability to regulate aircraft maintenance in general. At least four maintenance-related allegations made two years ago have “potential safety implications,” and despite a significant increase in maintenance problems at American, the FAA did little to address the issues. The report questions the FAA’s effectiveness and notes that the FAA only ever took action after the department had briefed agency officials on the need for them.
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FAA: Body Falls From Miami-Bound Airplane. --- The Denver Channel, February 18, 2010
A person’s body fell from a wheel well of an airplane leaving the Dominican Republic for Miami on Thursday, February 18. The body was recovered in the Dominican Republic.
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State Statistics on General Aviation Pilots, Aircraft, Airports. --- Scripps Howard News Service, February 18, 2010
The Scripps Howard News Service, drawing on information from the Federal Aviation Administration and other sources, has released state-by-state statistics on total general aviation pilots, aircraft, and public and private airports.
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FAA Rules Wouldn’t Stop IRS Attack. --- Des Moines News, February 18, 2010
Despite a “huge compilation” of rules and regulations, the Federal Aviation Administration could not have prevented the incident on Thursday, February 18, in which a man flew a small plane into an Austin, Texas Internal Revenue Service building. The regulations are designed to protect people in the skies and on the ground, but could not have stopped the pilot from intentionally flying into the building. The FAA attempts to prevent situations like the February 17 incident from occurring by requiring every pilot to have regular flight physicals and requiring pilots to be in contact with a control tower before takeoff and later with air traffic control, as well as mandating minimum distances that pilots must stay away from the ground.
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Keeping Watch Over Private Planes Difficult. --- Ben Wear, American-Statesman, February 19, 2010
Federal agencies regularly make attempts to monitor general aviation pilots and planes, particularly after 9/11, with various pilot requirements and background checks, but none of that would likely have made a difference in stopping Andrew Joseph Stack III and the Piper Cherokee plane he is suspected of purposely flying into an office building on Thursday, February 18. Little can be done about a “deranged” person who wants to do damage, and even if Stack had been required to file a flight plan and thereby trigger some scrutiny by air traffic controllers, nothing would have prevented him from veering off path and hitting his target. Jay Carpenter, former president of the Texas Aviation Association, also noted that Stack chose possibly the “least-effective” weapon he could have used, pointing to the relatively light weight of most private aircraft, including Stack’s plane, and the relatively low number of people killed and hurt.
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FAA, Los Angeles Clash Over Airport. --- Andy Pasztor, The Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2010
The Federal Aviation Administration wants Los Angeles International Airport to reconfigure its two northern runways to prevent airliners from blundering onto the wrong strip, but a recent report commissioned by the city from outside experts determined that it was not necessary to relocate one of the runways. The FAA maintains that increasing the distance between the runways is the surest way to reduce the likelihood of planes mistakenly rolling into the path of other aircraft, a significant issue at LAX, which led major U.S. airports in serious near-collisions on the ground. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and airport leaders balk at what would be a roughly $500 million project, and such construction plans would also face neighborhood opposition.
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NASA Study: LAX’s North Runways are Safe. --- Associated Press, February 19, 2010
A NASA study finds that chances of a collision are so low that a project to reconfigure two runways at Los Angeles International Airport would only marginally increase safety. In response, the Federal Aviation Administration contends that conclusions that the north airfield is “safe enough now” are not an argument against doing everything possible to make it safer. City Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says that barring other findings that would indicate safety issues, the city will not move the runway.
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Redefining Safety at LAX. --- The Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2010
The recent NASA study finding that a runway relocation project would not be worth the cost, despite Federal Aviation Administration concerns about the runways’ design flaws, should not be the last word on improvements at Los Angeles International Airport. Although the study convincingly assessed that the risk of a deadly accident at the north airfield is very low, it also found that adding 100 feet of separation between the runways would reduce the risk of fatal collisions by 40%, while adding 340 feet would lower the risk by 55%--with the FAA and airlines putting up the $500 million needed for the project, it could be worthwhile.
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GE Faces $1.2 Million Fine for Jet-Engine Repair Procedures. --- Angela Greiling Keane, Associated Press, February 19, 2010
The Federal Aviation Administration has proposed a $1.2 million fine against General Electric’s GE Caledonian unit for “improper” aircraft-engine maintenance procedures at a repair station in Scotland. The agency said that GE used a procedure to remove parts from engine mounts that deviated from the process outlined by the manufacturer’s manual.
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FAA Proposes to More Icing Regulations for Part 121. --- Aviation News, February 20, 2010
The Federal Aviation Administration is proposing additional standards for Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121 that would require either the installation of ice detection equipment or changes to the flight manual to ensure timely activation of the airframe ice protection system. The new rules are intended to stop accidents when the flight crew is unaware of the ice.
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Small Airports Play Crucial Role in Aviation Security. --- Ted Strong and Chase Purdy, Daily Progress, February 20, 2010
Regional airports have a less visible but not less essential role in aviation security, because people who board planes at regional airports can work their way to any major airport in the country, and from there can board an aircraft without confronting another checkpoint. Steve Elson, a former Federal Aviation Administration counterterrorism team member said security weaknesses are consistent at airports large and small, and charged the Transportation Security Administration’s “thick bureaucracy” with preventing simple, necessary changes from taking place. Elson praises small airports, however, for their efficiency, because smaller airports allow for more hands-on security since the level of technology at such airports is usually low compared with the equipment found at international airports.
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8 Jobs Lost as FAA Unit Consolidates. --- Rome Sentinel, February 22, 2010
The Federal Aviation Administration is consolidating the radar approach control center at Griffiss International Airport in Rome, New York with the operations at Syracuse’s airport. Eight jobs at Griffiss will be affected, but the air control tower that handles landings and takeoffs will continue to operate as usual.
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GAO Issues Preliminary Report on Aircraft Icing and Winter Operations. --- Government Accountability Office, February 24, 2010
The Government Accountability Office has released a preliminary information report on aircraft icing and winter operations, as part of its testimony before the House Subcommittee on Aviation and Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The report provides preliminary information on the extent to which large commercial airplanes have experienced accidents and incidents related to icing and contaminated runways, the efforts of the Federal Aviation Administration and other aviation entities to improve safety in icing and winter weather conditions, and the challenges that continue to affect winter weather aviation operations.
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More articles on this topic:

Investigators Call for More Pilot Training on Icing. --- Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News, February 24, 2010
The Government Accountability Office says that federal regulators could do much more to guarantee that icing will not lead to a fatal plane crash, like ensuring that pilot training is thorough, relevant, and realistic. A GAO representative, testifying at a House Aviation Subcommittee hearing on aircraft icing, said there was data on hundreds of accidents that occurred between 1998 and 2007 that revealed that icing and contaminated runways pose a substantial risk to aviation safety, and that pilots are likely to encounter icing conditions beyond their aircraft’s capabilities at least once in their career. The GAO recommended a closer look at pilot training and urged the Federal Aviation Administration to speed up its efforts to write rules governing the use of aircraft in icy conditions.
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FAA: Willis Airport Decision is on Hold. --- Pat Murphy, Idaho Mountain Express, February 24, 2010
Actor Bruce Willis has proposed to build a single, 8,500-foot, jet-friendly runway for a privately operated field east of Fairfield, Idaho, but the Federal Aviation Administration will not finalize a decision on his plan until a separate study on possible sites for a replacement for Friedman Memorial Airport is completed. The proposed airport’s operational air space would “have an impact” on Visual Flight Rules operations in the air space of an alternative site being studied as Friedman’s replacement. Until the environmental impact study of that alternative site is complete, no resolution on Willis’ proposal will be reached.
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NTSB Wants to Monitor Pilots’ Cockpit Conversations. --- Catherine Holland, Azfamily.com, February 24, 2010
The National Transportation Safety Board is asking that airlines and unions be allowed to use black-box recordings to regularly listen in on pilots’ conversations, but the pilots’ unions are calling the proposal intrusive. The NTSB says the recommendation is not intended to invade privacy, but to monitor what’s happening in the air and make sure cockpit crews are doing their jobs, as well as promote safety by reducing misbehavior and inattention.
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Alaska Airlines to Offer Gogo Internet Service. --- Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 24, 2010
Alaska Airlines will offer Aircell’s Gogo Inflight Internet service on all of its aircraft. The Gogo service is currently being installed on a Boeing 737-800 and will begin testing to secure certification from the Federal Aviation Administration; once the equipment has been certified for the 737s, the airline will start outfitting its entire fleet.
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Airport Dispute Continues. --- Sophia Aldous, The Statesman Examiner, February 24, 2010
The City of Colville in Washington is looking to relocate Colville Municipal Airport. A committee on the airport relocation process agreed that a new airport is needed, but no single airport site has been selected yet. The goal of the relocation is to improve safety in the air and on the ground, and to provide opportunity for expanded service and stimulate economic development, but there are many in the community who are opposed to a new airport.
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New TSA Regulations Are Arbitrary and Capricious

The January 2, 2010 edition of the Los Angeles Times contained an op-ed piece by David Steinberg (not the comedian, but a screenwriter from Santa Monica).  The editorial beautifully capsulizes the irrationality of the Transportation Security Agency’s response to the recent attempted bombing of a Delta airliner bound for the United States from Amsterdam in which the TSA instituted regulations during an overnight session (when participants were apparently not fully awake).  Those regulations, governing incoming flights to the U.S. from certain foreign airports, include requiring that passengers remain locked in their seats during the last hour of flight, and removal of all pillows and blankets to overhead bins during the same period. 

In his editorial, Mr. Steinberg recounts his family’s odyssey home from a vacation in Aruba the day after the attempted bombing.  Their adventure included: (1) the baggage handler, designated as “frisker,” becoming embarrassed as he patted down Mr. Steinberg’s four year old son; (2) the same “frisker” apparently recognizing the absurdity of his act, gratefully passing on the frisk of Mr. Steinberg’s two year old daughter; and (3) Mr. Steinberg’s two year old screaming “bloody murder” as the flight attendant yanked the pillow from under her head.

Honestly, when does enough arbitrary and capricious regulation become enough?  First, the government mandates that passengers have to practically disrobe to get on a plane.  Now the government wants to regulate when passengers can go to the bathroom once they get there.  And for all that nonsense, the attempted bomber got on the plane to the United States, with explosives, not in his shoes, but in his underwear!  Does that mean passengers will now have to take off their underwear and put it through the scanner?

 

The answer is now, and has always been, the same: (1) better information coordination between responsible agencies; (2) full body scanners that take off our underwear for us; and (3) criminal (not racial) profiling.

The last two are controversial.  With respect to full body scanners, the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil liberties groups have taken the position that scanners are impermissibly intrusive.  However, the level of their intrusion should be weighed against existing regulations that require removal of shoes, belts and coats in public, and ultimately allow pat downs of innocent citizens, not by trained law enforcement, but by “baggage handlers” as in Mr. Steinberg’s case.

The last, profiling, may be the most difficult of all, because it smacks of the “bad old days” when law enforcement impermissibly profiled on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sometimes gender.  But that is not the kind of profiling being suggested here.  Criminal profiling is different in that it brings together many factors in a person’s past and present, including criminal history, recent travel, employment and, if relevant, ethnicity.  While we abhor profiling in its usual incarnation, it too must be weighed against the victimization of innocent travelers by ill considered, intrusive, and ultimately useless regulation.

In the end, Mr. Steinberg said it best - “How long are we going to tolerate increasingly preposterous and obviously useless rules in the name of security? . . . What if it takes six hours to get from the curb to the plane because next year’s lunatic tries to break the plane’s window with his bare skull and so the TSA decides every man, woman and child needs to be outfitted with padded headgear?  There’s got to be a better way.  A system that keeps us safe without impinging on the civil liberties we cherish.  A system whereby suspicious individuals get scrutinized, and everyone else gets to sleep on their own pillows.”

 

GAO Testifies That The FAA's Congestion Management Program Will Have Limited Effect on Reducing Delays

During July, the Government Accounting Office issued several reports regarding various aviation topics.  One of the topics not covered was the East Coast Airspace Redesign, which was supposed to be issued at the end of July, but now probably will not be issued until the end of August.

Of particular interest was the issuance, on July 15, 2008, of the testimony of Ms. Susan Fleming, the GAO Director of Physical Infrastructure, National Airspace System: DOT and FAA Actions Will Likely Have a Limited Effect on Reducing Delays during Summer 2008 Travel Season given to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security.  Over the past decade, there has been a steady increase in flight delays and cancellations, such that a delay at O'Hare or Hartsfield would have a ripple effect across the National Airspace System. The DOT estimated that more than one in four flights either arrived late or was canceled in 2007, making it one of the worst years for delays in the last decade. As a result of the East Coast Airspace Redesign, the delays and cancellations evident at the three New York metropolitan commercial passenger airports--Newark Liberty International (Newark), John F. Kennedy International (JFK), and LaGuardia caused the FAA to propose and promulgate several actions in attempt to reduce congestion and delays. 

Ms. Fleming's testimony addresses (1) the trends in the extent and principal sources of flight delays and cancellations over the last 10 years, (2) the status of federal government actions to reduce flight delays and cancellations, and (3) the extent to which these actions may reduce delays and cancellations for the summer 2008 travel season. This statement is based on an analysis of DOT data on airline on-time performance, a review of relevant documents and reports, and interviews with officials from DOT, FAA, airport operators, and airlines, as well as aviation industry experts and associations. DOT and FAA provided technical comments which were incorporated as appropriate.

Of particular interest is the fact that Ms. Fleming's testimony states that "to reduce delays and congestion beginning in summer 2008, DOT and FAA are implementing several actions that for the purposes of this review GAO is characterizing as capacity-enhancing initiatives and demand management policies." Some of these actions are already in effect, such as 11 of the 17 short-term initiatives designed to improve capacity at the airport or system level and the hourly schedule caps on operations at the New York area airports.