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TSA Seeks New Devices To Cut Back On Pat-Downs – Really?

11 Jun

I am one of those people who is blessed — or cursed — with a long memory.  I can’t tell you what I ate for dinner last week, but I can probably tell you where we met and even what you were wearing when we met.  This blessing comes in really handy as a writer, because I do tend to remember most of my aviation stories.

So when I saw this headline — Handheld device sought to reduce frequency of controversial pat-down searches at airports — in Government Security News magazine, a little bell went off in my head.  Regular readers know that I covered airports and security for almost five years at Aviation Week.  I also created the now-defunct Towers and Tarmacs blog, which covered the same topics.

GSN reports that TSA has put out a proposal to potential vendors for the following in a handheld device: (a) the device should be able to be operated with only one hand during screening, (b) it should weigh less than five pounds, (c) it should not be “tethered” to a desktop computer, power supply or external detection unit, (d) it should be able to detect metal and explosives, (e) it should handle the sampling, scanning and analysis as a single step, (f) results should be obtained in less than 15 seconds, and (g) the device should be ready to screen the next passenger in less than one minute.

So as my brain scanned the phrases “TSA” and “hand-held devices,” several things popped up.  I remember all this new technology TSA was exploring to make the whole security process quicker but still help the agency meet its mission.  These include:

  • In August 2006, TSA started exploring a shoe x-ray that would have allowed us to keep our footwear on during the screening process;
  • In October, my former AvWeek colleague John Doyle wrote about a Canadian company that had created a device that attached to existing x-ray machines to scan liquids for explosives and weapons that was so sensitive it could tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi;
  • A month later, TSA announced it had purchased 600 bottle scanners and would start by deploying 200 of them at six airports; and
  • In January 2007, TSA was testing CastScope, a device that could scan passengers wearing casts

According to the New York Times, the Dept. of Homeland Security has spent almost $40 billion on rebuilding aviation security.  And despite that, we’re still subjected to basic pat-downs if technology fails. There’s got to be a better — and cheaper — way.

The ORIGINAL Strange But True Aviation News

8 Jun

Uh, the flight attendants are leaving but you want US to stay on this plane?  An Air Canada pilot found himself trying to convince passengers to stay on a flight from Ottawa to Vancouver despite the flight attendants walking off over a smell from the air filter system, reports the Globe and Mail. Mail columnist Gary Mason happened to be on the flight as the drama played out over Twitter. Mason and most of the passengers (and 1 of the flight attendants) decided to stay on the flight.

There’s a difference between walking and flying? American-Iranian Muslim U.S.  citizen Kavon Iraniha is back in the USA after a year studying law in Costa Rica — and finding himself on the No-fly list, reports NBC San Diego.  As Iraniha tried to return to San Diego, he was told he was on the no-fly list. He was questioned by the FBI, but still not allowed to fly home. So he decided to fly to Tijuana, Mexico, then walk across the border.

No more snow in Puerto Rico. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration arrested 36 people at San Juan’s Luis Munoz Marin International Airport after breaking up a drug ring that smuggled more than 61,000 pounds of cocaine on passenger flights since 1999, reports MSNBC.  The sting managed to capture some current and former American Airlines employees.

That’s not the right way to do a pat-down.  Five Transportation Security Administration screeners at Southwest Florida International Airport were fired and another 38 were suspended after an investigation found that passengers weren’t being properly screened, reports NaplesNews.com. Another screener saw the problem and reported it to TSA.

Can you sue dead people? Ok, you have to follow this CNN Travel story closely, kids. Melissa Schram lost her common-law husband in a plane crash where a drunk passenger allegedly kicked the pilot’s seat, which caused the crash. You with me so far? Now Schram is suing the estate of the dead pilot, claiming he shouldn’t have let the drunk pilot on the Cessna-185F floatplane that crashed.

For the umpteenth time – drinking and flying don’t mix!! Grandmother Frances Macaskill has been ordered to repay Qantas A$18,245 after her flight from Melbourne to Perth had to return after her drunken behavior, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.  Macaskill was seen drinking duty-free liquor and began fighting with passengers and shouting profanities aboard the flight, which led to her arrest and a sentence of four months in jail and a A$3,500 fine.

Dude — you can’t sail on the runway!!  A runway at Boston-Logan International Airport was temporarily closed after an empty sailboat broke away from its mooring and running aground at 9/27, reports NYC Aviation.

So I guess the hookers, booze and poker are out too?  Airlines starting service out of Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport are traditionally greeted with showgirls and an Elvis impersonator.  But Dutch carrier ArkeFly won’t get that deal because the arrival of its first flight is too close to the arrival of President Barack Obama, who is coming to town for an official visit, reports USA Today.

The were really “stuck” on this flight.  An Allegiant Airlines flight from Phoenix to Central Nebraska Regional Airport got stuck in the dirt after the pilot made a sharp turn off the taxiway, reports the Omaha World-Herald.  The return flight was delayed nearly five hours while a new plane was brought in.

美國的航空公司的失業的工人應學漢語 (translation: Unemployed American Airline Workers Should Learn Chinese). Representatives of China’s air carriers are reaching out to American Airlines workers who may lose their jobs as the company continues to shed jobs while in Chapter 11: learn Chinese, reports Forbes. Chinese carriers are looking for cabin crews as they continue to grow.

FOAM PARTY!!! Workers at an Eagle Aviation hangar based at Texas’ Abilene Regional Airport got a surprise when they arrived at work: a facility filled with foam, reports ReporterNews.com.  A fire suppressant system went off, causing the foam to fill the hangar and the surrounding outside area.

I’m sorry, but you need to create your own caption on this one, kids. Dutch artist Bart Jansen was distraught over the deal of his cat Orville, named after Orville Wright.  So he decided to keep the dead cat with him forever by turning him into a flying helicopter, reports the Daily Mail.  He called Orville ‘half cat, half machine’, adding he had become a visual art project to pay tribute to the dead animal.

Random Aviation Photo

7 Jun

I had the chance to attend the celebration of United Airlines uber frequent flyer Tom Stuker, who hit the 10 million mile Mileage Plus mark in July 2011. As part of that event, the nice folks at the airline took us on a great tour of its flagship Chicago O’Hare hub. I’m a huge fan of the lights that spark up the escalator tubes that connect the airport’s terminals.  I snapped this as we took our walk.  Enjoy!

The ORIGINAL Strange But True Aviation News

1 Jun

It was raining parts! An Air Canada flight taking off from Toronto to Tokyo had to make an emergency landing after parts from its engine fell to the ground, reports KHOU-TV.  No one was injured during the landing.

He *didn’t* have a ticket to ride, but he didn’t care.  A man who had just been released from jail managed to get onto a flight at San Diego International Airport — without a ticket, reports MSNBC.  He entered the airport through an emergency door at the airport’s commuter terminal and was discovered after a flight attendant realized there were too many passengers on the plane.

You must behave on your flight!  Ryan Snider was arrested when his American Airlines flight landed in Montego Bay, Jamaica, after becoming unruly during the flight, reports MSNBC.  he refused to follow crewmember instructions and had to be restrained by two passengers.

No buckle, no ride. Mark Yanchak and his toddler were kicked off an Alaska Airlines flight leaving Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after the child refused to buckle his seat, reports CBS News.  The father said the pilot was overreacting, but the pilot said he’d rather “deal with it on the ground than in mid-flight.”

Don’t you need a pole to pole vault?  Pole vaulter Kati Davis got an unpleasant surprise when her Delta Air Lines flight arrived in Pueblo, Colo., for a major track and field event — her poles were not there, reports KOMO-TV. Davis paid $200 to check the poles, but they were lost, and she blames the airline for her poor performance. Delta did refund her$200 fee.

Interesting joy ride. A man was arrested  after stealing a jeep and a motor home and crashing them both through the fence at Mississippi’s Segars Field/Iuka Airport, reports WTVA-TV. He was charged with two counts of grand larceny.

How Social Media Got Me On The MetLife Blimp

1 Jun


 

Me in the MetLife blimp.

Regular readers of this blog know I am a HUGE fan of social media, especially Twitter, where I do my aviation geek posts as @AvQueenBenet.  You also know that my day job is handling media relations for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) — a job I found via social media.

Our headquarters are directly across the street from Frederick Municipal Airport, where I happen to be taking my flight lessons.  Last Monday as I was coming into work, I saw the MetLife blimp parked at the airport. It had flown to cover the Preakness horse race in Baltimore.  I got out, snapped a few pictures and thought that was that. I kept seeing the blimp, so finally on Thursday, I thought I’d send a tweet to @MetLifeBlimp.

 

I was amazed when I got such a quick response.

Pilot Charlie Smith was kind enough to pick me up and off we went.  First, I was amazed at how big the blimp was. I was also surprised that it’s just a big bag of air, as Charlie aptly described it.  I got to talk with Charlie about how he became a blimp pilot, the traveling life of the crew of 13, and everything it takes to get the blimp from point A to point B.  As far as him getting in the door, Smith said he was in the right place at the right time.  “Not too many people dream of doing this, but we all fall  in love with it.”

I know what he means. I actually felt an electric thrill when I got into the blimp’s cockpit.  Forgive me as I go into uber avgeek mode. Amazingly enough, the cockpit looked amazingly like the one I’m using in my flight lessons on the Cessna 172 Skyhawk SP.  Smith agreed, noting that the blimp’s cockpit only had three instruments that were unique to the aircraft.  And the blimp doesn’t have ailerons, which are hinged flight control surfaces on the trailing edge of the wing on an aircraft and are used to control the aircraft in roll. As a current student, it seems weird to me that such a key part of flight is not there!

 

Smith noted that the @MetLifeBlimp social media team is pretty quick about responding to tweets.  He said the blimp has responded to tweets to fly over schools or other places if they can fit it in the schedule. I really appreciate the folks at MetLife for allowing me to have this grand adventure!  And if the blimp shows up in your city, send them a tweet — they may just fly by!

Random Aviation Photo

31 May

I’m still feeling nostalgic for Memorial Day, so today’s photo is one I took at last year’s EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wis.  Despite my military upbringing, I never felt the love for military aviation like I do commercial aviation  — until I saw all the warbirds at Oshkosh.  Below is Miss Geraldine, a gorgeous and pristine North American P-51D Mustang. Enjoy!

Remember The Reason For Memorial Day

28 May

Below is a picture of my grandparents and my father.  My grandfather, CWO4 Bennie J. Wilson, Jr., served in the Army Air Corps in World War II and retired from the U.S. Air Force.  My grandmother, Claressa Deary Wilson, was a “Rosie The Riveter” in Galveston, Texas, during the war. My father, Col. Bennie J Wilson III, retired from the Air Force after a 30-year career.  I thank them and appreciate their service to their country. Enjoy your holiday!

The ORIGINAL Strange But True Aviation News

25 May

She was left to her own “devices.”  A French woman born in Cameroon caused a US Airways flight from Paris to Charlotte to divert to Bangor, Maine after claiming to be carrying a surgically implanted device, reports Reuters. The woman was questioned by Customs and Border Protection and taken into custody by the FBI.

Maybe Breathalyzers might help. India’s civil aviation minister reports that 14 pilots and 31 crew members were caught reporting for duty under the influence of alcohol between January and March, reports the Times of India. Most of the offenders worked at Jet Airways, it added.

It looks like things flared up in Philly.  A US Airways Express flight from Elmira, N.Y., to Philadelphia experienced a close call when allegedly a flare was shot up around 50 feet of the Dash 8 turboprop, reports USA Today.  The flight landed safely.

A change might be due. Officials at Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport say they are looking at making changes as their security checkpoint after a Piedmont Airlines pilot managed to bring a loaded gun onto a flight, reports the Daily Progress.  The pilot was charge with attempting to carry a weapon or explosive on an aircraft.

FORE!! Staff at Florida’s Hallandale Beach golf course found a big surprise on the greens — an aircraft door, reports the Daily Mail.  The door had fallen off a  Canadair CL60 jet that had just taken off from Opa Locka Executive Airport.

Watch what you say!  A female flight attendant on Brazil’s Trip Airlines had a male passenger tossed off a flight after he was heard making disparaging remarks about the crew’s woman pilot, reports MSNBC.

Hot DOG!  Detroit-based American Coney Island restaurant decided to celebrate its 95th anniversary in a unique way.  It teamed with a local radio station to rent a helicopter to dump almost 1,000 hot dogs and have 25 contestants stuff as many of them on their persons as possible, reports ABC News.  The winner received $1,000 and a year’s supply of hot dogs.

We’ll end the week with a video from our good friends at the New York Aviation website. In this video, a passenger records how the engine cover on a TAM Airbus A320 traveling from Natal to Sao Paulo breaks off and hurls itself into the side of the plane.

Pssst-Wanna Buy A Regional Jet Cheap?

22 May

American Eagle Embraer ERJ-145s at DFW Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

I covered the regional aviation industry from 1993 to 2001.  During that time, I watched as regional carriers grew up and became almost mirror images of their larger airline partners.

I had a front row seat to the rise of the 50-seat regional jet.  The big players were Canada’s Bombardier, with its CRJ and Brazil’s Embraer ERJ-145.  The major airlines wanted them for several reasons.  One, they were constrained by pilot scope clauses that didn’t allow regional pilots to fly larger jets. Two, they saw the jets as a way bring service to cities that weren’t quite big enough for larger jet or even do some point-to-point hub bypass service.

During the RJ frenzy heyday, regional carriers couldn’t sign contracts fast enough.  Cincinnati-based Comair led the pack, becoming the U.S. launch customer for the CRJ, while Continental Express was the same for the ERJ-145.  Mesa Air Group (my former employer) became the first regional to operate both types in its fleet.

But now, regionals can’t get rid of them fast enough as fuel costs made them more expensive to operate and major airlines began cutting traditional RJ routes.  You can read my May 1 interview in Aviation International News with my former boss, Jonathan Ornstein, on how this affected Mesa.

So where are all those RJs going? An April 30 story in AIN sister publication Business Jet Traveler reports that the current RJ glut “presents a rare opportunity to acquire a relatively new large-cabin jet at near-turboprop prices.”  I wrote a blog post in Aviation Week’s Business Aviation Now on Sept. 11, 2009 on Dubai-based Project Phoenix, a company that turns CRJ-200s into VIP business jets.

According to BJT, by the end of 2011, nearly 400 RJs were grounded in the U.S., many of them less than 10 years old, including BAE 146/Avros; Bombardier CRJ100s, 200s and 900s; Dornier/Fairchild 328Jets; Fokker 100s; and Embraer ERJ-135/145s. And, the publication notes, the Chapter 11 filing of American Airlines could see hundreds more ERJs in the American Eagle fleet be put into storage.

If you’re looking for a pretty nice aircraft that is a little slower but tougher than the average business jet at a bargain basement price, a converted CRJ might be for you.  For a mere $10 million, according to BJT, you can have one with “all the bells and whistles,” with a range of 3000nm carrying eight passengers and bags.  A similarly sized super mid-sized jet, like the Bombardier Challenger 605 (a loose cousin of the CRJ) could cost  more than double.

The bigger question is what will happen to all those smaller regional jets?  Is there enough of a market for them to be a strong alternative to a new business jet? Is there a market for these aircraft in other parts of the world, including China, Africa and South America? Only time will tell.

GUEST POST – Cleared for Takeoff: Second Annual Aviation Inspiration Day Is A Week Away

18 May

Editor’s note:  I had the pleasure of meeting Lynda Meeks, the founder of Cleveland-based Girls With Wings, at this year’s Sun N Fun.  Dave Sniadak, one of my most loyal readers, is also a PR/multimedia specialist based in Minneapolis and is helping Lynda promote an event he describes below.  I am a big fan of what Lynda is doing, so please enjoy!

By Dave Sniadak

We always encourage our kids to let their imaginations soar, but one woman is actually teaching young girls how to turn those imaginations into reality.

Lynda Meeks, the founder of Girls With Wings, is traveling to the Upper Midwest to host her 2nd annual Aviation Inspiration Day on Saturday, May 26th, at Fleming Field in South St. Paul, Minnesota. Together with the Minnesota Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), Wipaire, Young Eagles, and several other great partners, this event hopes to host hundreds of families, but more importantly, dozens of young girls – grades 1st-8th – who will learn the basics of becoming a pilot.

Meeks travels all over the nation talking with groups of girls about the importance of studying hard, exploring the world, and chasing their dreams. The Aviation Inspiration Day is the biggest event during the year for Girls With Wings, and consists of hands-on presentations, tours of the CAF hangar, interaction with vendors, and free flights above the Twin Cities. You can register for the event here: http://www.girlswithwings.myevent.com/ (and, yes, boys are welcome, too). Attendees are encouraged to preregister; admission is $5/child and gets each student into the event.

Preregistration also reserves a seat on a short flight above Fleming Field, courtesy of the Young Eagles EAA Chapter 1229. Students must be at least 8 years old to fly; space is limited and preregistration is recommended. Flights are also dependent upon weather conditions.

Rain or shine, Attendees will have the chance to get up close and personal with vintage and current airplanes, including “Miss Mitchell”, a beautifully restored B-25 bomber, a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter, a glider, and several other types of aircraft.

Meeks loves to tell her audience: “Girls Don’t Need Fairy Tales, They Need Flight Plans”. Aviation Inspiration Day presents a great message for us all to spread our wings and let our imaginations fly. Hope you can make it to the event!

Here are some highlights from last year’s Aviation Inspiration Day:

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