Official who OK’d Air Force One jet flyover resigns

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Obama has accepted the resignation of Louis Caldera, the director of the White House Military Office responsible for the controversial low-altitude flyover of New York by a 747 plane used as Air Force One, the White House said Friday.

The 747 used as Air Force One flies over the Statue of Liberty in this photo released on Friday by the White House.

The 747 used as Air Force One flies over the Statue of Liberty in this photo released on Friday by the White House.

The photo shoot, which President Obama said he was “furious” with, happened on April 27. The image of a low-flying plane accompanied by an F-16 fighter jet sent some New Yorkers into the streets and into a panic — reminding them of the tragic 9/11 attacks on the city.

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Building evacuations also took place across the Hudson River in Jersey City, New Jersey. Read more of Obama’s reaction

Caldera later apologized for the flyover.

The White House also released a photo of the flyover and a report on the incident on Friday.

In the report, the White House said Caldera, who had been traveling with President Obama when the flyover plans were initially discussed, did not remember a conversation in which his deputy, George Mulligan, informed him of the flyover.

Caldera did not open an e-mail about final plans for the flyover until after it had happened, the report said, noting Caldera had been suffering from severe muscle spasms and had left the officer early on several days.

Although recommendations by several parties involved in the flyover had been made that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina be informed of the plans, the report said, that job was left to Caldera, who did not pass the information along.

The flyover, officials said, was a training mission — it was also a government-sanctioned photo shoot.

Military officials estimate the mission and the photo shoot, aimed at updating file photos of Air Force One — cost $328,835 in taxpayer money.

But they said “the hours would have been flown regardless, and the expenses would have been accrued on a different mission.”

Witnesses reported seeing the plane circle over the Upper New York Bay near the Statue of Liberty before flying up the Hudson River. Video Watch the plane fly over Manhattan »

A YouTube video showed people standing in a parking lot, watching the plane approach. As it nears, they begin to run. “Run, run!” said one person. “Oh my God,” cried another.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was visibly angry last week. “I’m annoyed — furious is a better word — that I wasn’t told,” he said, adding that the decision by the White House Military Office and Federal Aviation Administration to withhold details about the flight were “ridiculous” and “poor judgment.”

But according to Air Force Capt. Anna Carpenter, local law enforcement agencies and the FAA had been notified of the exercise.

New York Police Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne confirmed that department had been alerted about the flight “with directives to local authorities not to disclose information about it.”


After Air Force One Flyover, Military Office Director Resigns

The White House released a photo of the plane flying over New York City on Friday.The White House The White House on Friday released the April 27 photo of the plane flying over New York City.

The director of the White House Military Office submitted his resignation on Friday, less than two weeks after he authorized an Air Force One flyover of the Statue of Liberty that terrified thousands of people in New York City.

Louis Caldera, who served as the secretary of the Army in the Clinton administration, apologized for the “distraction” that approving the flyover caused. He said in a brief letter to President Obama on Friday that it “has made it impossible for me to effectively lead the White House Military Office.”

On April 27, a plane that usually serves as Air Force One was flying low over the New York City skyline, trailed closely by two fighter jets. It was a photo opportunity – authorized by several government officials, including Mr. Caldera – that infuriated Mr. Obama.

Last week, Mr. Obama ordered a deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina, to review the incident. And on Friday afternoon, a seven-page review of the matter was released, along with the photograph.

Mr. Messina, in his memorandum to the president, said that “structural and organizational ambiguities” in the White House Military Office led to a series of miscommunications and senior aides to the president were not advised of the flyover that had been in the planning stages since March.

“The breakdown was the lack of public notification,” the memorandum states, adding that Mr. Caldera believed others had been notified about the flight.

“If he had been aware that the flight would cause so much trouble or any embarrassment to the president or to the White House,” the report said, “he never would have allowed it to go forward.”

New York Times


After Air Force One Flyover, Military Office Director Resigns

The White House released a photo of the plane flying over New York City on Friday.The White House The White House on Friday released the April 27 photo of the plane flying over New York City.

The director of the White House Military Office submitted his resignation on Friday, less than two weeks after he authorized an Air Force One flyover of the Statue of Liberty that terrified thousands of people in New York City.

Louis Caldera, who served as the secretary of the Army in the Clinton administration, apologized for the “distraction” that approving the flyover caused. He said in a brief letter to President Obama on Friday that it “has made it impossible for me to effectively lead the White House Military Office.”

On April 27, a plane that usually serves as Air Force One was flying low over the New York City skyline, trailed closely by two fighter jets. It was a photo opportunity – authorized by several government officials, including Mr. Caldera – that infuriated Mr. Obama.

Last week, Mr. Obama ordered a deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina, to review the incident. And on Friday afternoon, a seven-page review of the matter was released, along with the photograph.

Mr. Messina, in his memorandum to the president, said that “structural and organizational ambiguities” in the White House Military Office led to a series of miscommunications and senior aides to the president were not advised of the flyover that had been in the planning stages since March.

“The breakdown was the lack of public notification,” the memorandum states, adding that Mr. Caldera believed others had been notified about the flight.

“If he had been aware that the flight would cause so much trouble or any embarrassment to the president or to the White House,” the report said, “he never would have allowed it to go forward.”

New York Times


Risky Business for US regionals

By Mary Kirby

Ask a US regional carrier to describe its operating experience over the past year and “rollercoaster ride” may be among the metaphors employed. Small regional jets, which have long served as the backbone of the US hub-and-spoke system, became untenable to operate in a cost-efficient manner when fuel prices spiked in 2008. Even though fuel has moderated, regional carriers – like their US major partners – now face dramatic reductions in yield as business travel has fallen off the map.

“I want to underscore how susceptible this business is. Load factors for US codesharing regionals fell 11 months out of 12 year-over-year until March 2009,” says Seabury Group senior vice-president Doug Abbey.

Josh Akbar
© Josh Akbar

While several US regionals are somewhat insulated to market volatility by capacity purchase agreements that provide reimbursement for pass-through costs such as fuel, these arrangements are falling out of favour. Major carriers are no longer content to see their feeders enjoy dramatically higher profit margins than their own.

At the same time, the regional landscape has become quite fluid. Abbey points out, for example, that the Baltimore-Boston market, originally primarily served by mainline aircraft, transitioned to primarily regional jets post-9/11 and has now reverted to mainline jet flying (see Boston-Baltimore chart).

Consequently, as regional carriers prepare to descend on the Regional Airline Association’s (RAA) annual conference and exhibition on 18-21 May in Salt Lake City, Utah, they are finding it difficult to predict what the future may hold.

Unwilling to rest on their laurels and simply wait for the economic crisis to ease, some regionals are taking cost-reduction steps now so that they can present a good case to mainline operators when capacity purchase and other feeder agreements come to their natural end. Others are forging ahead with new business strategies that involve assuming more risk and reducing reliance on US majors.

AVOIDING PANIC

St George, Utah-headquartered SkyWest refuses to be panic stricken by current economic challenges. The carrier, which provides regional lift to Delta Air Lines and United Airlines with a large fleet of Bombardier CRJ200s, CRJ700s, CRJ900s and Embraer EMB-120 Brasilias, is focused on having a higher quality operation than anybody else. It is doing “everything we can” to be cost efficient, such as creating fuel conservation programmes to help major partners, and taking good care of employees and investors, says chairman and chief executive Jerry Atkin.

“Our people work hard, and we partner now so that when it’s time for contract renewal, we’ll be in a good position in terms of quality and cost efficiency to expand our operation in the longer term.”

This year the company will take delivery of 18 new CRJ700s that are generally intended to replace the Brasilias under United. Delta Connection carrier Atlantic Southeast Airlines, a SkyWest subsidiary, is also bringing in 10 new CRJ900s.

“Those are two fairly significant opportunities that are going on in fairly challenging times. We also got nine airplanes back out of Midwest [Airlines] and we’ve placed all nine of them – seven with United and two we leased to Belarus,” says Atkin, noting that all capacity at SkyWest has been spoken for.

“That is not easy to do in today’s environment. We’re lucky to find opportunities and have people talk to us.”

While there are “little opportunities in today’s challenging times”, more significant openings could arise in the near future. Some major airline pilot contracts will become amendable in 2011 and 2012. Then, pilots will have to consider whether to further relax scope clauses that have dictated that three-quarters of the US regional fleet remains at 50 seats.

“How long the current flying will remain constrained by scope, I don’t know. I think airlines will be aiming for 90 seats, maybe as much as 100 [when negotiating with pilots]. But there is a lot of carriers that don’t have anything or have extremely limiting scope in the 70-seat category,” says Atkin.

At the same time, he says, technology is “continuing to improve and airplanes that are in the planning stages are being offered that have improved reduced fuel burns and reduced maintenance costs. And so the cost of the 70- to 100-seat airplanes are going to go down because of the new technology being offered.”

Bombardier – which plans to bring the new 100-seat CRJ1000 to market in early 2010 – is optimistic that upgauging will take place at North American regional operators.

© Bombardier

“In our 2008-27 forecast we note the removal of older mainline fleet types will create demand for new, small, single-aisle aircraft and large regional aircraft alike. With fuel prices as the key driver, network optimisation and the implementation of highly fuel-efficient aircraft will be the focus of the mainline operators,” says the manufacturer.

In November, Embraer released a 20-year market forecast predicting a 10% drop in demand for regional jets, which included a 60% decline for the 30- to 60-seat market sector.

It also lowered its outlook for higher-capacity types, dropping the 61- to 90-seat forecast by 6% to 2,450 jets, and the 91- to 120-seat segment by 3% to 3,650.

But the Brazilian airframer says these two capacity brackets should “continue to help” carriers to match capacity to demand by “right-sizing” routes operated by narrowbody types with low load factors.

ASSUMING THE BURDEN

In line with up-gauging, however, regional carriers may need to take greater responsibility for variable costs. “I think it is incumbent upon regional partners to take more risk,” says Seabury’s Abbey.

SkyWest has already taken tentative steps in this regard, forging pro-rata agreements whereby it carries Delta and United’s codes on service to certain small markets in Wyoming and Oregon, but assumes responsibility for the pricing and for fuel.

While the new services are not subsidised through the government’s essential air service (EAS) programme, SkyWest has “entered into a partnership with the communities and I think there is probably more of that as well”, says Atkin.

SkyWest serves only two government-subsidised markets with 30-seat Brasilias, the smallest aircraft type in its fleet. “A lot of the EAS markets struggle supporting a 19-seat airplane. The number of EAS markets that fit the aircraft size we operate is fairly limited,” says the SkyWest chief executive.

Indeed, a growing number of small communities are coming to grips with the fact that they cannot support 50-seat, 30-seat or even 19-seat service. But a nine-seat service, like the one flown by Cape Air, is gaining in popularity.

Based in Hyannis, Massachusetts, Cape Air operates in New England, New York, the Caribbean, Florida, the Mid-Atlantic and Micronesia with a fleet of 56 nine-seat Cessna 402s and two 46-seat ATR 42s.

“In a lot of the cases with the cities we’re serving, we are not offering fewer seats. We’re replacing less-frequency/high-gauge service with high-frequency/low-gauge service,” says founder and chief executive Dan Wolf.

The carrier, a codeshare partner with Continental Airlines in the Caribbean and with JetBlue Airways in New England, recently launched EAS-supported services linking Baltimore with Hagerstown, Maryland and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

“Lancaster and Hagerstown are perfect. The two cities meet Cape Air’s minimal scaling of three aircraft using one spare as back-up,” says Wolf.

He says the carrier is looking again at introducing service in the Midwest, after an attempt in Indianapolis failed. “If you draw a line from Chicago to New Orleans and look at 250 miles [400km] on either side of that line, there are some communities that would benefit from Cape Air service.”

So sure is Cape Air in its strategy that it is in talks with airframers over its options for eventually replacing its Cessna 402s.

MULTI-ENGINE PARADIGM

“We’re having conversations with various manufacturers that would be able to work with us. But we believe in a multi-engine paradigm. Our request is a multi-engined, nine-passenger aircraft with acquisition costs and operating costs around where the Cessna 402 is,” says Wolf.

The RAA, meanwhile, is expressing cautious optimism that EAS will be strengthened under President Barack Obama’s administration, providing regionals with further growth opportunities in a downmarket. “Already, the current administration is better than the prior administration,” says RAA president Roger Cohen.

The new administration’s proposed budget would increase funding for EAS by $55 million. However, FAA reauthorisation legislation in the House of Representatives would provide for $200 million in funding while modifying the EAS subsidy formula to reflect the cost of fuel retroactively.

CHARTING NEW TERRITORY

Another carrier taking an alternative approach to classic regional feed is ExpressJet, which is in the midst of building its charter business.

ExpressJet retained about 30 aircraft for charter and corporate flying in 2008 after dissolving its branded flying and returning 39 Embraer ERJ-145s to Continental as part of a new air services agreement the two companies reached in July 2008.

During a recent earnings call, ExpressJet chief executive Jim Ream admitted to a mixed outlook for the company’s charter operation, but said he was happy with the first quarter as the performance of that business mirrored the fourth quarter’s strong results.

Seabury’s Abbey points out that since corporate jets “have a bit of a bad reputation”, regional jet charters “may be more palatable” from a public relations standpoint.


Comment: hard work starts now for the dream team

After almost two years lurching from crisis to crisis following its much trumpeted “7/8/07” roll-out, the Dreamliner is finally close to its maiden flight.

Since that gala event in Everett, when Boeing was still publicly confident the first flight would follow within a month or two, the programme has been through the grinder. The rush to meet the marketeers’ “dream” date for the unveiling conspired with a series of technical setbacks and production dramas – not least of which was a loss of control of some members of the international supply team – to make the 787 suffer the longest roll-out to flight period in airliner development history. If it does fly next month, as Boeing now confidently predicts, the 23-month interval even far exceeds the 15 months between Concorde’s unveiling and maiden sortie four decades ago.

Like its supersonic predecessor, the 787’s first flight will be a key milestone, but only represents the “end of the beginning” for the engineers steering the carbonfibre jet’s development through to first deliveries. Both programmes, like the revolutionary de Havilland Comet before them, reinvented airliner design. So expect more surprises – good and bad – as Boeing progresses through a flight and certification test programme that will rewrite the rules in terms of both pace and technical innovation. Forget what went before – the really hard work starts now.


NTSB: Crashed Convair 580 had reversed elevator trim cables

By David Kaminski-Morrow

US investigators have confirmed that elevator trim cables on a Convair 580 freighter had been reversed before the aircraft crashed in Ohio last September with the loss of all three occupants.

The aircraft, operated by Air Tahoma, had undergone maintenance before the 1 September flight, including disconnection, rigging and reconnection of all flight-control cables in the empennage.

“On-site inspection of the accident airplane revealed that the elevator trim cables were reversed,” says the National Transportation Safety Board in an update to the inquiry.

“As a result, when the pilot applied nose-up trim, the elevator trim system actually applied nose-down trim.”

It also points out that the flight-data recorder did not contain a record of the accident flight. The NTSB says the pilots “skipped” activation of this recorder while running through the checklist.

The 52-year old twin-engined aircraft, which had logged almost 72,000 hours, had taken off from Columbus’ Rickenbacker Airport, on a short flight to Mansfield, when the crew immediately attempted to return. It failed to reach the runway and crashed into a cornfield.

In its update the NTSB states that an inspector did not, as was required, sign off cards for numerous checks during the aircraft’s last phase inspection in August 2008. Among the items included in these checks was the crucial connection of elevator servo trim-tab cables.

After the inspection the aircraft did not fly until the fatal departure. The flight lasted just 2min 40s, during which the cockpit-voice recorder showed the captain repeated the word ‘pull’ about 27 times while the pilots apparently battled in vain to trim the aircraft.

US FAA regulators revoked Air Tahoma’s operating certificate following a review in the wake of the crash.


Business aviation market ‘by no means good’, but improving

By John Croft

Cessna, Embraer and Gulfstream are reporting glimpses of market recovery in the wake of a ravaging first quarter, a cautious optimism fuelled largely by signs of stabilisation in customer behaviour. Data from the three emerged during first quarter financial reports, a picture that will be augmented later in May when Bombardier issues its results. Hawker Beechcraft has cancelled its next earnings report, which was scheduled for 6 May.

The cautious optimism contrasts with the latest general aviation shipments data from the first quarter, showing a 36% drop in business jet shipments to 191 compared with 297 in the first quarter of 2008.

“While conditions are by no means good, I am pleased to report that they have improved materially from what we experienced in February,” says Nicholas Chabraja, chairman of Gulfstream parent company, General Dynamics. Positive “data points” since February include an increase in flight hours in the fleet, “signs of thawing” in the pre-owned market and increased customer interest in new orders.

Gulfstream G550
© Gulfstream

The company in mid-March had reduced by about 20% its 2009 production targets for large- and midsize aircraft and cut 12% of its workforce, a result of what Chabraja calls “a terrible bloodletting in February” that caused customer defaults and requests for contract cancellations. “We see that activity has quietened,” he says.

In addition to the “pruning” of orders and a planned variable-length employee furlough this summer, lessons in handling contracts learned from the previous downturn in 2002 have put Gulfstream in a relatively stable position going forward. The company received $30 million in liquidated damages on defaults, situations in which an aircraft is sold to new buyers or buyers moving forward in line, but where the original owner must absorb the difference between the original and discounted price.

“Cancellation is not in our vernacular,” says Chabraja. The company has been successful in reselling defaulted positions, with only one “white tail” G550 at the end of the first quarter, an aircraft that is now under contract and will be delivered this quarter.

Chabraja says the downturn has created two markets – a “spot” market where “prices are slightly off, sometimes more than slightly”, and a longer-term “regular” market. “Some [customers] might be buying a pre-owned aircraft and see an opportunity to get a new aircraft at distressed prices,” he says. “They don’t get to outfit the aircraft as they would have wanted, but they find purchase point attractive in that venue. We’re happy to see those kinds of buyers.”

Chabraja says he is also seeing people “expressing more interest” in the regular market, with customers “reappearing, albeit slowly”, he says. That emerging confidence is apparent in continued interest in the new $60 million G650. “We lost a couple and picked up a couple [of customers],” says Chabraja, adding that the G650 backlog is “up marginally”. The acid test of the market will come on first flight of the company’s largest aircraft to date, set to take place before year’s end, when the first 50 customers will be required to submit a progress payment. Gulfstream would not provide details as to the amount.

Success in the pre-owned market has not been as swift, with seven aircraft in the inventory and an expected five more to enter by year’s end. Gulfstream did not sell any used aircraft in the quarter, says Chabraja.

Embraer chief executive Frederico Curado, echoes Chabraja’s outlook. “I can dare to say that we may be reaching the bottom of the [business aviation] situation,” Curado says of the company’s executive aviation segment. “An important indicator is that people who have deliveries toward the end of the year have made their pre-delivery deposits.”

The company in February cut its executive jet production plan to 127, including 17 Legacy 600s and Lineage 1000s. That is down from as many as 150 Phenoms and 36 of the larger aircraft that were in the plan as of November. Embraer has also cut 4,300 employees to suit the revised production figures, about 20% of its workforce.

Curado says Embraer has maintained about $6.6 billion in backlog for business jets, which includes 800 Phenom 100 and Phenom 300 jets as well as 20 Lineage 1000 and Legacy 600 models. The first $41 million Lineage will be delivered this quarter and Phenom 300 certification is due before year-end, he adds.

Plans remain in place to boost production capacity for the Phenom line to 22 aircraft a month (17 Phenom 100s and five Phenom 300s) by 2010. “Today, I don’t think we’ll go to that level,” says Curado. “We will probably stabilise the rate at a lower level,” he adds. “It will depend on how strongly the backlog holds toward the end of the year, when we’ll reach 10-12 aircraft a month. Beyond that, it depends on the backlog.”

Textron subsidiary Cessna is the coolest on recovery signs. “We’re starting to see a tapering off of cancellations for 2009 deliveries, but we’re still seeing cancellations in 2010 and 2011,” says Textron chief executive Lewes Campbell. The company recorded 92 cancellations in the first quarter, half of which were for 2009 deliveries. “We see cases every day where people pay their deposits. They pick out their interiors and their paint, and cancel their order. They tell us, ‘we can’t fly our new aircraft into our town just having laid off 10-20% of our workforce’.”