All-weather obstacles I read with interest Andrew Healey's article "All-hour access" on the subject of all-weather approaches by helicopters flying public transport operations (Flight International, 20-26 July). However, lack of engine failure accountability and lack of icing clearances are problems that stand in the way of this development. A low-speed steep approach coming into a hover at 40ft (12m) does not sit well with an engine failure in a single-engined helicopter, nor with engine failure in a twin, unless there is so much installed power that it can hover out of ground effect on one engine. Then there is the icing problem. In temperate latitudes the zero degree isotherm in winter can often be found at less than 1,500ft above mean seal level and instrument flight rules minimum en route altitudes are likely to be at least 1,000ft higher than this. Therefore, an icing clearance will be essential for all-weather operations. Helicopter commercial air transport operations over the North Sea have had an all-weather capability for the past 25 years, but only because the sea is flat and at sea level; the zero degree isotherm is seldom lower than 500ft above mean seal level; vessels and offshore platforms can be "seen" and avoided on radar; and the aircraft have limited icing clearances and procedures sufficient to deal with these conditions. Unless these two boringly "low-tech" problems are solved, the finest instrument approach guidance in the world will be unlikely to result in all-weather operations in helicopter commercial air transport. R R McGregor Newtonhill, Kincardineshire, UK

Luck and statistics All of a sudden, changes introduced over 20 years ago are now having a major impact on accident statistics - but why these particular six months (Flight International, 3-9 August? Let's not be so naive. The reason for the "improvement" is luck and, more specifically, "near miss luck". A brief review of the statistics identifies three near misses, on the ground, all at European airports, all involving major airlines and all at relatively quiet times of the year. All are still under investigation. It was only luck that one, if not all, did not become another major accident statistic to go with Milan Linate. The only reason for the "improvement" over the six months in question is luck - and luck is not a basis for safety. Alan Woof Ennetburgen, Switzerland

Overhaul damage Your recent report on scribing damage (Flight International, 15-21 June) highlighted the issue of non-standard maintenance procedures - as did the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 engine pylon removals with a forklift truck that led to mass fatalities decades ago. Further safety risk from non-approved maintenance is now apparent in the latest statements from the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) about damage to Boeing 737 undercarriage retract actuator beams - caused by non-standard abrasive blasting compounds during overhaul. The NTSB reports that the resulting failure can damage aileron and spoiler control cables in the affected wing - and it cites four events in five years. It was in August 2003 that a major European airline suffered just such an in-flight event - with control affected. Now, exactly one year later, we see the NTSB urging the Federal Aviation Administration to issue directives rather than service bulletins; the usual impasse pervades. In the meantime, another 737 (Flash Air) has gone down with uncommanded flight deviations. Without going into the still-argued-about 737 rudder "hardover" issues, would it be wise to now consider that the incidents relating to 737 undercarriage beam failures might be considered as a possible clue in such accidents? Speculation is dangerous, but consideration of a persistent pattern of evidence is not, is it? Lance Cole Swindon, Wiltshire, UK

Europe should stand firm Your Comment on Airbus/Boeing subsidy issues (Flight International, 27 July-2 August) was balanced, but neglected some key aspects. The 1992 Agreement involved the concession by the US side that they benefit from enormous sums of money spent by NASA and the Department of Defense on indirect research and development support. In the 1990s these indirect supports were huge, with NASA trying to help Boeing launch either a new subsonic or supersonic transport. Between 1993 and 1998 nearly $2.5 billion was spent on these two programmes by NASA. Today, Boeing's new aircraft concepts, particularly the 7E7, are being enhanced by these non-repayable subsidies. In addition, Boeing was a major beneficiary of the foreign sales corporation tax breaks, which the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has ruled illegal. Europe should stand its ground over the 1992 Agreement. If the USA wants to break the treaty unilaterally, then the European Union can be confident of the WTO finding both Japanese and US financial support for the 7E7 to be illegal. As in the past, Boeing is making all the noise about subsidies, while also being a major beneficiary of government largesse. Professor Philip Lawrence Director, Aerospace Research Centre, Bristol, UK

Balancing act I refer to the letter from Elliot Epstein (Flight International, 27 July-2 August) alleging favouritism in your recent reporting on Airbus. Mr Epstein says he has been a reader of Flight International for the past 40 years. As a regular reader since 1942 and a reader of many US and other aviation journals,and having lived and worked in both the USA and UK, I feel I can make an objective assessment. My long-felt view is that some US journals have been more biased and insular in their reporting and in their editorials than those from most other nations. From the days of the Second World War, the USA has sought to dominate world markets and a number of promising Australian projects have fallen to this activity - for example, the Victa Airtourer. Just look at how in recent times one US company has tried to denigrate the A380 at every opportunity. The USA often makes it obvious it does not like anyone being as good or better than they. Overall, I consider Flight International one of the best and most balanced aviation journals in the world. J M Stacy Linden Park, South Australia, Australia

I have read Flight International for many years and I would like to congratulate you on your great variety of reports, not only about Airbus and Boeing, but also about all other issues of the aviation world. I generally find your articles very well balanced. It would be the end of good journalism to count and compare pages, headlines and words to find a precise balance between reports about Airbus, Boeing and other players in the aviation industry in each issue. Continue with your excellent work and don't get distracted by such narrow minded "patriotism" which in my opinion has no place in our modern international world of aviation. Dr Anton Winkler New York, USA

Insurance view The article "Europe moves to plug insurance gap" (Flight International, 20-26 July) contained inaccurate and misleading information about the aviation insurance market's actions in respect of coverage against chemical/biological terrorist attacks. Aviation underwriters view the modern-day terrorist threats of a chemical/biological nature in the same way as a nuclear threat, ie, weapons of mass destruction that could lead to a calamitous accumulation of loss for the insurance industry of an unquantifiable nature and thus uninsurable. The aviation market is some way behind other sectors of the insurance industry in looking to exclude these exposures, but we are still engaged in a year-long consultation process with brokers representing airline clients to explain our reasoning. There is no fixed date set for issuing the new clause, but underwriting associations will be merely making the new clause available for use and certainly not urging their members to withdraw cover. R G Dampier Underwriter, Amlin - Aviation Division London, UK

No longer open The article "Welsh open" (Flight International, 27 July-2 August) spells good news for Aberporth and Llanbedr. However, it will come as a surprise to the 150 or so staff at Llanbedr airfield, who all received their redundancy notices recently. Notice of the closure of the facility was given two years ago and will take effect in November. Unlike Aberporth, Llanbedr has the safety advantage of a bi-directional approach over the sea for unmanned aircraft, especially those that may be damaged. While the closure of Llanbedr results from the demise of the Jindivik target system, it will also rob the Royal Air Force of the only emergency landing airfield for manned aircraft between Anglesey and the airfields on the South Wales coast. Roy Gamblin Barmouth, Gwynedd, UK

Source: Flight International