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Los Angeles World Airports has confirmed an unusual incident of aircraft vandalism at Van Nuys Airport earlier this week. A Learjet was tagged with some elaborate graffiti, which would have taken the "artist" some time to complete. Paint work to obliterate the freedom of expression (which includes what may be the tagger's signature) will cost in the tens of thousands of dollars and there will undoubtedly be a thorough inspection of the rest of the plane. What's not clear is how the spray-can-wielding perpetrator penetrated the defenses of one of the U.S.'s busiest business aviation airports. Diana Sanchez, public and community relations director for the airport organization, told AVweb they're looking into it. 

Sanchez issued the following statement in response to a query from AVweb. “Los Angeles World Airports takes very seriously any and all issues of airport security in order to provide a safe and secure environment for our Van Nuys Airport tenants. An aircraft positioned on a privately leased ramp near the Sherman Way tunnel was vandalized. We are working with the affected tenant to prevent future incidents in this location, and we continue with our standing practice of reminding all tenants on the field about the importance of security. 

"This particular investigation is ongoing, and Los Angeles World Airports Police is working in conjunction with the Los Angeles Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

The name of the owner of the plane was not released.

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First officers who fly for passenger and cargo airlines now will be required to hold an ATP certificate and an aircraft type rating, the FAA said on Wednesday, although several exemptions are available. The final rule has been posted on the FAA website (PDF), and soon will be published officially in the Federal Register. Currently, first officers are required to hold only a commercial pilot certificate, which requires 250 hours of flight time. To qualify for an ATP, pilots must have logged 1,500 hours. The exemptions in the first-officer rule allow pilots who are younger than 23 -- the minimum age to apply for an ATP -- or who have less than 1,500 hours total time to qualify as first officers with "restricted privileges" if they are at least 21 years old and meet certain criteria. 

To qualify for the restricted privileges ATP certificate, a pilot must fit one of these categories: ex-military pilots with 750 hours total time as a pilot; graduates holding a bachelor's degree with an aviation major and 1,000 hours total time; graduates holding an associate's degree with an aviation major and 1,250 hours; and pilots who are at least 21 years old with 1,500 flight hours. The new rule also requires a pilot to have logged a minimum of 1,000 flight hours as first officer in air-carrier operations prior to serving as captain. Also, applicants will have to meet enhanced training requirements to qualify for an ATP certificate, including 50 hours of multi-engine time and completion of a new FAA-approved training program. 

"The rule gives first officers a stronger foundation of aeronautical knowledge and experience before they fly for an air carrier," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. "With this rule and our efforts to address pilot fatigue -- both initiatives championed by the families of Colgan Flight 3407 -- we're making a safe system even safer." The new rule was required by a congressional mandate passed in 2010 in response to the 2009 Colgan Air crash in Buffalo. That act also drove the creation of new flight duty and rest requirements for pilots that were finalized in 2011, as well as new requirements for air-carrier training programs, expected this fall, that aim to ensure pilots know how to react properly in difficult operating environments.

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The FAA, manufacturers and GA advocates have been working to change the federal rules that govern certification for GA aircraft, and this week a bill was passed by a House committee that sets a December 2015 deadline for those changes to take effect. The Small Airplane Revitalization Act of 2013, passed on Wednesday by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, directs the FAA to implement, by the deadline, the recommendations of the Part 23 Reorganization Aviation Rulemaking Committee. The ARC aimed to enhance safety and cut certification costs in half for light GA airplanes by switching to a system of consensus-based industry standards. What that means for pilots, Greg Bowles of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association told AVweb, is that products will be more cost-effective and new products will hit the market more frequently.

Pilots often are frustrated that new products available for experimental aircraft take a long time to be approved for certified airplanes, Bowles said. "In this new environment," he said, "a lot of those things will now be available." The bill now goes to the full House for consideration. GAMA said the measure has strong bipartisan support in Congress. The 18-month-long ARC effort, which included input from more than 150 government and industry representatives, was co-chaired by Bowles, GAMA's director of engineering and manufacturing. Other GA groups also welcomed Wednesday's committee vote, including NBAA, AOPA, EAA and NATA. 

General aviation advocacy groups have been working with the FAA to change the way light aircraft are certified, ditching the traditional Part 23 process and replacing it with an industry-consensus-standards approach.  Greg Bowles of GAMA has been a leader in that effort, and he spoke with AVweb's Mary Grady about the progress made in Washington this week and what it means for pilots and aviation consumers.

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When a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter crashed shortly after takeoff in Soldotna, Alaska, on Sunday morning, killing all 10 people on board, there were no eyewitnesses, no video and no data recorders on board the aircraft, NTSB investigators said this week. "It does make [the investigation] more difficult," NTSB member Earl Weener said at a press briefing in Anchorage on Tuesday. "We would love to have good flight data and voice recorder information, it makes our life much easier." A Spidertracks tracking device reportedly was on board the aircraft but it's not yet clear how much data that might provide. Investigators also will try to extract data, such as GPS coordinates or images, from cellphones that were found in the wreckage. On Wednesday, Weener said the airplane's engine had been removed and shipped to Honeywell in Phoenix for a full teardown and analysis. Prop damage indicates the engine was developing power when it hit the ground, he said, and all control cables and surfaces were intact at the time of the crash.

Weener said on Wednesday that investigators are conducting interviews to build a 72-hour history of the pilot's activities before the flight. Investigators also are trying to independently determine the weight and balance. Weener said the search is continuing for information about the crash sequence. "We are looking for witnesses and images of the crash," he said. "If anyone has seen anything, they can email us at witness@ntsb.gov." Investigators have determined that the aircraft impacted the ground in a right wing down, nose low attitude, Weener said, about 88 feet from the runway edge and 2,320 feet from the departure end of the runway. The aircraft was piloted by Walter Rediske, 42, the owner of the Otter. Two families from Greenville, S.C., including four adults and five children, also died in the crash. They had planned to visit Bear Mountain Lodge, less than 100 miles away, adjacent to Lake Clark National Park.

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Tiny devices called synthetic jet actuators could be placed along the leading edge of a wing and create small puffs of air that virtually change the shape of the wing, reducing drag, according to scientists at GE Global Research. The scientists are developing the technology not only for use on airplanes but also on wind turbine blades. "The device is lightweight and very simple in operation, with minimal power usage," said Seyed Saddoughi, principal engineer, who is leading the project. "By expanding and contracting a chamber such that air is sucked in and ejected through a single hole, this device works similar to a human lung. The advantage is that there is no need for pumps that use external flow, or fans with moving parts." 

The devices pump air efficiently by applying an alternating current to two parallel plates separated by a slight space, according to GE. The two plates bend and straighten as electricity moves through them, causing the middle chamber to rapidly pull in and push out air. The technology is already in development for use as a cooling device in consumer electronics and computers, GE said. But Saddoughi says the technology's true potential will be realized by embedding rows of them in the wings of jets and turbine blades. More details about the technology are posted at GE's Txchnologist website.

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Piper and start-up fuel distributor Airworthy Autogas jointly tested the fuel company's 93 octane unleaded fuel on an Archer as part of the lead-up to Airworthy Autogas's launch later this year. Piper conducted a structured flight test regime using the fuel at its Vero Beach headquarters. Next comes a series of cross-country tests to determine the viability of the fuel. Piper CEO Simon Caldecott said the testing is part of Piper's effort to find alternative fuels that work in its aircraft. The tests were done on an Archer equipped with a Lycoming O-360 and Lycoming was part of the program. Piper did not discuss the test results so far. 

Mark Ellery, director of business development for Airworthy Autogas, said the fuel is "high-purity, low-vapor-pressure, ethanol-free, 93 octane, premium unleaded automotive gasoline" and distribution will begin in the fall. "Bringing Airworthy Autogas to the marketplace provides an alternative for the majority of general aviation aircraft without compromising airworthiness," Ellery said. "Our goal is to get pilots flying more for less." Ellery did not say how much the 93UL will cost or where it will be initially sold. He said it meets ASTM D4814 (automotive fuel) specifications but also meets Lycoming's Service Instruction 1070S for use of fuels other than 100LL in its engines. "Airworthy Autogas, unlike traditional automotive gasoline, is designed for use in powering spark-ignition internal combustion engines used in aircraft applications," the company says in its description of the fuel.

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AVweb's newly redesigned website is now live. Although it may look unfamiliar at first glance, the basic organization follows the old site, but we've expanded many of our topics and features to provide more granularity in how we present news coverage. The new site's graphic design is cleaner and less cluttered and will allow us to better present news, video and graphics.

Just to make things easier, the far left pulldown menu on the homepage--the Aviation News Finder--is organized exactly like the old site and will have labels and tabs that will be familiar to readers. If you're entering the site for the first time, you'll see a prominent box at the top of the page asking you to register. But the new site will recognize your old password, so just click the log-in link located just above the main navigation bar. Can't remember your password? No worries; there's a lost password utility to help you retrieve it. Once you're in, the registration box won't appear again.

We're continuing to index existing editorial material from the old site into new subcategories in the new site, so some of the tabs won't be populated yet. However, all the archives are there and our improved search engine will find anything  on the site, regardless of when it was posted. In the coming days, watch for our multi-media section and menu categories to fill up as we catch up on indexing and sorting. Let us know what you think of the new site and any suggestions you might have to improve it.

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AVweb's Newstips Address

Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something the flying world might want to know about, tell us. Submit news tips via e-mail here. (Or send them direct to Newstips at AVweb.com.)

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Meet the AVweb Team

AVweb is the world's premier independent aviation news resource, online since 1995. Our reporting, features, and newsletters are brought to you by:

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As I mentioned in Sunday’s blog, the Asiana crash in San Francisco on Saturday was unusual for being unusual. There just aren’t many Part 121 crashes these days. But it’s unusual for another reason: the NTSB is making effective use of social media, specifically Twitter, to pass on snippets of information as they become available.

But hold on. Should they be doing this? After all, as pilots, we know that investigators need to work unhindered by public pressure and opinion and at a measured, methodical pace. In other words, in relative secrecy. Isn’t a Twitter feed the diametric opposite of this? Yes, it is and seeing the NTSB use it is a breath of fresh air in an age when government snooping and unnecessary secrecy have reached a disgusting crescendo. Seeing a government agency pull back the lid a little is, in my view, an altogether good thing.

So far, investigators have mainly Tweeted schedules and plans, answered questions and provided some key facts from data extracted from the digital recorders. Generally, this is the kind of thing they’ve released at press conferences in the past so all that’s really changed is the distribution method. Press conferences happen on a defined schedule and dump a bunch of information, Twitter streams randomly when the information becomes available and someone feels like pecking out 140 characters. The agency also Tweeted some interesting photos, including one depicting a jumbled mess of seats inside the cabin.

I suppose aviation people who are in a snit about this worry that somehow, the public shouldn’t have this information because it might…might what? Develop an informed opinion before the NTSB does? Go out on the internet and promulgate crackpot theories? Somehow get the jump on the process and sway the accident investigation for nefarious purposes as we so clearly established last week that they did in the TWA 800 investigation. (Note: Sarcasm warning light. Refer to checklist for resolution.) Or perhaps it’s just not, umm, dignified.

This is actually not the first time the NTSB has communicated via Twitter. They’ve been doing it for routine announcements and minor accidents for awhile. But this is the first major accident investigation the agency has had in a while so this is a first and I’m sensing it’s a bit of a trial balloon. Well, the balloon is flying. We should encourage the NTSB to continue if for no other reason than it shows the rest of the government how things should be done. Government in the sunshine is always preferable to the shadows.

Follow the stream here.

AVweb Insider

On Saturday afternoon, I was grinding away on the cross trainer at my local gym watching CNN try cover the Asiana crash at San Francisco. I say "try" because reporters with absolutely no meaningful information were attempting to fill air time. Nothing new about that. For the hour or so that I watched the coverage, it had fewer inanities than I'd have expected.

But I was also wondering how long it would take the networks to figure out what the real story was and that's this: We don't see this sort of thing very often. Even those of us involved in aviation lose track of overall accident trends. While I was pedaling, I was searching my mental database for the last time there was a hull-loss accident involving fatalities for Part 121 carriers in the U.S. All I could come up with was the Colgan crash in Buffalo in February of 2009. When I got home and swept the NTSB database, I found I was right. That's almost five years without a major airline accident and if that's not shocking, it's at least impressive. And before that, it was the Lexington, Kentucky Comair crash. Guess when that was? It was 2006, seven years ago next month.

You'll occasionally hear safety experts argue that the airline accident rate could still be improved, but it's difficult to see how, given the nature of random chance and that humans, by and large, still operate the entire man-machine interface. The fatal accident rate for the scheduled airlines has been effectively zero since 2010 and even the Colgan crash barely nudged the needle off the peg. The overall accident rate for the airlines—and that includes everything from the catering truck bashing a door to runway departures from contaminated runways—stands at about 0.162/100,000 hours. To put that in context, the general aviation rate, at 6.3, is 39 times higher.

And we all know how this has been achieved and maintained. There's no silver bullet, but a combination of better equipment and engines, safety trend monitoring and information exchange, improved training and refined cockpit procedures. Even knowing all of that, the sheer numbers involved are astounding. In the U.S., there are about 10 million scheduled flights per year or 27,000 a day, give or take. So out of all those takeoffs and landings, you'd figure that in at least one or two a year, someone would get slow on final, lose it in a crosswind or just otherwise really prang one and tear up an airplane. That does happen, but it so rarely involves fatalities that it's not too much of an exaggeration to say the airline industry has managed to squeeze random chance out of its operations, a fact that makes the Asiana crash seem all the more rare, which it in fact, is.

As the Sunday news cycle spun up, the inevitable speculation began and while I'm not interested in joining it, I did find one remarkable picture of the accident which shows the what if not the why. It's an aerial photo looking back from the departure end of runway 28L toward the approach end. None of the dozens of other photos and frame grabs I saw show what this one does.

Specifically, the airplane came to a stop in about 1500 feet. Note that in the photo, the wreckage is abeam the first fixed-distance marker just past the aiming point markers. You can see the broken off horizontal and vertical fins just shy of the threshold. So what's the approach speed for a 777—maybe 140 knots indicated or so at a post-oceanic flight landing weight? That's a lot of energy dissipation in a short distance, suggesting a very violent ride and probably laudable crashworthiness, too, considering there were only two fatalities. Despite the ugly outcome and even the fire, modern air transports can clearly take a beating and still remain survivablely intact and passengers, thanks to trained crew, can get out of them in a hurry. To me, that's as impressive as the aforementioned accident rates. Let's hope that finds its way into the news stories, too.