Friday, June 01, 2007

FAA wake up call - Get tough on airworthiness!

A article in yesterday's NY Times discusses the causes of an airplane crash in Dec. 19, 2005 in Miami. This was a particular horrific crash as it cost the lives of 20 people on board a 58-year old Grumman Mallard seaplane used for nostalgic vacation flights between Florida and the Bahamas. The airplane's wing fell off in flight, resulting in catastrophic failure and death for all aboard.

And it could have undoubtedly been prevented with prudent maintenance inspections required of an airplane of this vintage.

The NYT article is noteworthy for reporting how the
NTSB cites FAA regulatory failure as a contributing cause to the crash. They're right to do so. The FAA has simply not applied aggressive enough safety standards to small operators, such as Chalk's Ocean Airways in this case, and to the aging planes they operate. This is inexcusable, and must be fixed.

No military aircraft would ever be allowed to operate with the lax airworthiness inspections that the FAA deems acceptable for such air carriers. Given a sensible "safety first" approach on airworthiness, this crash would undoubtedly have been prevented. It's time for the FAA to get their act together, or get new leadership.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Area 51...where are you?

I just love all the bruhaha that seems to perpetuate over classified military testing facilities, such as Area 51. Why is it that certain media outlets can't just accept the fact that, yes, the military does have a need for restricted bases to conduct testing of classified programs?!

The latest is a story out of Popular Mechanics magazine claiming they have found "the Air Force's new Area 51". The article goes on to say that Area 51 is "abandoned" and that Michaels AAF in the Dugway Proving Grounds is the new location for secret testing. The article focuses heavily on the X-33, a reusable launch vehicle with single-stage to orbit capabilities. (Note: The X-33 program was cancel by NASA in 2001 after many problems with a prototype.)

THIS STORY IS ABSOLUTE HOGWASH! I am embarrassed that PM went ahead with this sensational cover story without corroborating evidence. The PM article gives no compelling evidence for their claim, and the emphasis on the X-3
3 program as somehow being the ultimate goal of the next generation of aircraft, is simply naive. (Have these guys ever heard of net-centric warfare?)

Additionally, the Dugway Proving Grounds and the Utah Launch Complex are both in terrible shape. For all practical purposes, the sites are in "caretaker" status.

Click here for satellite map of the main facility of
Green River Utah Launch Complex. Totally a ghost town.

Somewhat more interesting is the satellite map of the Dugway Proving Ground Michael AAF. At least here we see some activity, including what appears to be a resurfacing effort on the main runway (30/12). The imagery is amazingly detailed (thanks Google!), and if I had to guess, I'd say the asphalt runway is being replaced with concrete. If you look at the southeastern end of the taxiway, it appears a second concrete strip is being applied, and also at the northwestern end. So right now, the main runway appears inoperable. Given the extreme resolution, I would guess the imagery is fairly recent, certainly within the last year. The parallel 7000' runway (30L/12R) appears operational. Otherwise, also pretty desolate, and nowhere near ready to support the kind of operations that Area 51 could.

Meanwhile, here's the main Dugway Proving Ground facility. I think the golf course needs a little work. ;-)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Another low fare startup -- Skybus

I did not realize that yet another low-cost airline is poised to enter the market. Skybus, based out of Columbus, OH is implementing the really, really, really super-cheap air fare. They'll be trying a business model that totally pushes the boundary regarding costs. Here's the premise -- travelers will forego any and all luxuries (even essentials) IF they can get a lower price. Are they right? I'm guessing yes.

So Skybus will charge for luggage ($5 for the first two bags, then $50), preassigned seats (an extra $10), food/pillow/blanket (you pay for it), no reservation agents (just a web site), only non-refundable tickets, and many of their destinations are non-prime airports (Richmond, Greensboro) which I think is their biggest obstacle. Their airplanes are all Airbus 319s, which I think have very cramped seating.

Still, it might just work. You know right up front
what you're getting (and what you're not). It will certainly be an interesting summer in the airline industry.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

New options for west coast travel

I fly between New York and Silicon Valley fairly often. This is a heavily travelled corridor, and the current service is typical of the US airline industry, by which I mean pretty dismal. I'm pleased to note that there are now two new options, both of which represent great value for consumers.

Jet Blue has two new options. 1) New flights into San Francisco, and 2) additional flights into San Jose. And as we all know, flying Jet Blue is always somehow just more fun.

Virgin America is now ready to fly! FINALLY! I can't wait. I used to fly Virgin Atlantic to Europe and they know what service means. Initial flights will include JFK-SFO. I personally think that in today's global economy, the US airline ownership rules are, well....quaint. Glad that VA has crossed that barrier. Looking forward to those in-flight massages.
Nice to have options.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Airbus A-380 - so tell me again, why are we building this airplane?

I read today in the NY Times that 18 US airports are building expanded taxiways and terminal facilities to the tune of $1 billion, all to handle the Airbus A-380 super jumbo jet. So my question is this. Why? Is there really a market for
an 853 seat airplane? how many routes can justify that kind of capacity? Okay...a few. Manila to Bahrain. London to Delhi. Sydney to anywhere.

I love aviation even more than the next guy, but I really have to question the market analysis for the A-380. It's a gorgeous airplane, but count me among the critics that feel there is just limited routes, limited airports, and limited airlines that will embrace this beast. Oh...don't forget, since AIrbus isn't selling many of them, the
y'll cost a fortune.

I hate to say it, but I predict an Air Bust!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Japanese looking to build/buy the F-22 (it's deja vu, again!)

As a former member of the DoD Team that journeyed to the Japanese Defense Agency (JDA) and tried to convince the TRDI not to waste time/money on the FSX fighter, but instead consider purchasing F-18 or F-16s, well let's just say I'm amused to see the recent Aviation Week article indicating the JDA now wants to build/buy the F-22.

(Readers will note that the FSX/F-2 Support Fighter was a marriage of convenience to cater to JDA/TRDI egos. Production has been cancelled after an abbreviated run, and the Japanese Self-Defense forces now have ~75 F-2's, an aircraft with F-16 performance that costs 3X as much. What a mess!)

Now the JDA (flush with cash) are looking to purchase/build the F-22. It's a great suggestion for both the US and the Japanese. It shares the risk and the cost. What a concept! Cooperation among allies on future weapons purchases.

Maybe the JDA is over their "not invented here" psychosis. Good job!