AP answers your questions on the news, from plane-bird collisions to the health care overhaul

Friday, February 26, 2010

Ask AP: Plane-bird collisions, health care reform

Birds collide with airplanes thousands of times every year. The consequences can be harrowing — Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger ditching his jetliner in the Hudson River, for instance — or even catastrophic.

So can more be done to protect aircraft from bird strikes? Curiosity about possible safety improvements inspired one of the questions in this edition of “Ask AP,” a weekly Q&A column where AP journalists respond to readers’ questions about the news.

If you have your own news-related question that you’d like to see answered by an AP reporter or editor, send it to newsquestions@ap.org, with “Ask AP” in the subject line. And please include your full name and hometown so they can be published with your question.

You can also find Ask AP on AP Mobile, a multimedia news service available on Internet-enabled cell phones. Go to www.apnews.com/ to learn more.

The House and Senate health care reform bills both prohibit denial of health insurance coverage because of pre-existing conditions. What does this mean in more detail? Would insurers be allowed to charge higher premiums to persons with pre-existing conditions? Could insurers force persons with pre-existing conditions into different tiers of coverage, deny certain tiers of coverage to persons with pre-existing conditions, or deny coverage of specific procedures, drugs or other remedies because of a pre-existing condition?

Jonathan Curtis

Scranton, Pa.

The short answer is no.

Insurers would not be able to charge higher premiums on account of pre-existing medical problems, and would not be able to push people into skimpier coverage because of health issues. Under the Democratic bills, insurers would be able to charge higher premiums for only three reasons: age, family size and location — a reflection of the fact that medical costs vary dramatically across the country.

Insurers would have discretion on how to design their plans and their drug menus, which usually group medications into different classes, with higher copayments for certain drugs. But they would have to treat everybody in the plan the same way. They could not charge higher copayments to people because of their medical history.

The insurance protections would take effect in 2014. Before that, as a transition, Obama and the Democrats would boost funding for state high-risk pools to provide coverage for people turned down for commercial insurance because of medical problems.

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar

AP Writer, Washington, D.C.

Why don’t airplane manufacturers design a reinforced screen that would protect engines from bird strikes? While some loss in fuel economy seems inevitable, it might be offset by lower insurance costs.

As a person with a soft spot for animals, I also wonder if there isn’t some enhancement that could be made to the airplane’s onboard radar that would provide a warning when flocks of birds are in the flight path. I hate to see the death of these nice creatures reduced to a discussion of airline costs.

Robert Enger

Los Angeles

Screens to prevent birds from getting sucked into aircraft engines have been considered in the past and rejected for several reasons. The screen would have to be very sturdy and possibly very heavy. Airplanes typically are traveling about 170 mph at takeoff. At that speed, a collision with a 10-pound Canada goose has about the same force as dropping a 1,000-pound weight 10 feet. The extra weight of a screen would decrease fuel efficiency. But the main reason is concern that screens would impede airflow into engines, possible causing an engine to shut down. Screens could ice over — airliners typically cruise at altitudes where temperatures are well below zero. Ice would also disrupt airflow.

There is research under way to help steer planes away from birds and birds away from planes. One possibility being looked into is equipping planes with pulsating ultraviolet lights that attract the attention of birds. The thought is that if birds see planes coming, they’ll fly in another direction.

The Federal Aviation Administration is also testing, or has plans to test, bird-detecting radar at five airports around the country. At the moment, the radar is primarily useful for detecting where birds are on or near airport property at any given moment so they be chased away. The radar also provides the wildlife biologists who work for airports with a record of where and when birds are most likely to congregate on airport grounds — a useful tool for eliminating food sources and other things that attract birds. Eventually, the FAA hopes to develop a radar that can provide air traffic controllers with the information they need to issue warnings to planes of birds in their path.

Joan Lowy

AP Writer, Washington, D.C.

During the Tournament of Roses coverage, a network TV anchor said that the Lions International float represented “the world’s largest service club.” That’s a distinction which I had heard for years belongs to Rotary International. Who’s correct?

Joseph Benham

Kerrville, Texas

The Lions Club claims to be the largest service club, while Rotary says it is the oldest.

Lions Club International has more than 1.3 million members in 45,000 clubs, according to its Web site. Its first organizational meeting was held June 7, 1917, in Chicago and its headquarters is now in the suburb of Oak Brook.

Rotary International has 1.2 million members in 33,000 clubs, according to its Web site. The group was formed Feb. 23, 1905, in Chicago and it is headquartered in the suburb of Evanston.

The Lions’ hallmark program has been working with the blind and visually impaired. Spokesman Dane LaJoye says the organization also focuses on disaster relief, helping after the recent earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Southeast Asia and Hurricane Katrina.

Rotary Foundation general manager John Osterlund says his group’s major focus is the eradication of polio. Rotary has partnered with such groups as the World Health Organization and UNICEF in the effort, he says, and Rotarians have donated more than $900 million so far.

Caryn Rousseau

AP Writer, Chicago

Have questions of your own? Send them to newsquestions@ap.org.

On the Net:

Lions Club International: www.lionsclubs.org

Rotary International: www.rotary.org

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