AVweb AVFlash - Volume 20, Number 14a
October 6, 2013
AOPA To Respond To FlightPrep Suit
AOPA says it will file its formal response Monday to a $66 million patent infringement suit launched by SD Holdings LLC, a Washington company that holds two patents on online flight planning tools. As we reported extensively in 2010 and 2011, the patents were awarded to Kyle Everson and Roger Stenbock, who at the time owned a company called FlightPrep, which began enforcing those patents with a variety of small online flight planning companies. Everson and Stenbock dissolved FlightPrep in 2012 but continue to hold the patents. FlightPrep was restarted by Ross Neher, an Oregon man who licences the technology from SD Holdings. The new FlightPrep is not part of this lawsuit as we incorrectly reported in Monday's AVwebFlash. The patents in question are for "generating travel plans on the Internet" and for "generating computer flight plans on the Internet." It began enforcing those patents by demanding royalties from other companies offering online flight planning and chart services. At the time, AOPA said its flight planning tool didn't violate the patent but AOPA recently introduced a new flight planner called FlyQ that SD Holdings is claiming does violate the patents it holds. AOPA told AVweb it is withholding comment until after it files its response but SD's claim says AOPA has denied that FlyQ infringes on the patents.
SD Holdings filed its suit on July 29, 2013 (PDF). It wants $60 million in lost profits from the potential sales of its products lost by AOPA's sale of FlyQ. Further, it wants a 10 percent royalty on the $150 per year subscription fee that AOPA charges for the service. SD Holdings appears to base its math on a calculation that includes all of the estimated 400,000 AOPA members. SD Holdings has asked for a jury trial.
Govt. Shutdown Highlights Aviation Safety Requirements
Furlough of FAA aviation safety inspectors and NTSB accident investigators may put the country in default of its obligations under an aviation treaty that sets standards for safety for ICAO, former FAA lawyer Loretta Alkalay told Forbes magazine this week. The U.S. failure to approve a federal budget and subsequent partial government shutdown has furloughed some 3,000 FAA safety inspectors and stalled NTSB investigations. Alkalay told Forbes that the inspectors perform oversight and surveillance required under the Chicago Convention treaty. "It's hard to imagine that the FAA can meet its ICAO obligations without 3,000 inspectors," Alkalay told the magazine. And violation of the treaty could have consequences for U.S. airlines.
The Chicago Convention sets standards for aviation safety among some 192 participating states of ICAO. For the U.S., the treaty requires that the country maintain a system that ensures aircraft operating over its borders (and U.S. aircraft flying abroad) comply with safety regulations. Countries participating in the treaty must ensure the same capabilities. The U.S. has in the past used the treaty to audit aviation authorities of other countries and has limited access to the U.S. for those countries that fail to meet minimum standards. Theoretically, foreign countries could now audit the U.S. system and find it out of compliance with safety obligations defined by the treaty and (at least) seek to impose restrictions on the movement of U.S. aircraft flying abroad.
How The Govt. Shutdown Affects Aircraft Sales
Aircraft sales can't be completed during the government's partial shutdown because the FAA's registry office is not considered an essential function and has been closed, the Wichita Eagle reported Friday. The Eagle says the General Aircraft Manufacturers Association (GAMA) has polled its members and deliveries of 12 new airplanes scheduled for the first two days of the shutdown have not occurred. GAMA also says ten times that number of aircraft are scheduled for delivery over the next few weeks. But new aircraft sales aren't the only ones affected -- used aircraft sales are affected, too. And there are several other side effects.
GAMA estimates the combined value of new aircraft scheduled to be delivered over the next couple of weeks at nearly $1.4 billion. With the registry office closed, aircraft registry records cannot be accessed, so no title searches can take place, which, among other things, means that lenders may balk at funding purchases. Also, federal regulations require that individuals notify the FAA, immediately, when aircraft ownership changes. And as long as the registry office remains closed, there is no one at the FAA to process the information, so regardless of other considerations aircraft cannot legally change hands. The result isn't just a building backlog of paperwork but a halt to financial exchanges. GAMA is working with the FAA to try to find solutions but, as of Friday, none were available.
Avgas Survey: Slightly Higher Confidence in Supplies; Mogas Gains Favor
Compared to two years ago, aircraft owners and operators say they’re more confident in future supplies of 100-octane gasoline of some kind—no thanks to the FAA—and fewer owners are delaying purchases or upgrades due to worries about fuel supplies. Nonetheless, many owners also report they’re flying fewer hours, due in part to the cost of 100LL, which now averages more than $6 a gallon in the U.S. These are some of the findings of a recent AVweb fuel survey conducted in August 2013. It repeats a survey we last performed in 2011 and asked readers for their opinions on a wide range of fuel-related questions, including attitudes toward modifications and using mogas as a substitute for 100LL, where possible. More than 1200 AVweb readers responded to the survey.
Confidence that some sort of 100LL replacement will emerge appears slightly higher. In 2011, 22 percent of readers—more than one in five—said they were delaying purchases or upgrades because of worries about fuel. Two years later, in 2013, that the number dropped slightly to 17 percent. Moreover, the percentage of owners saying they’re not delaying any upgrades or purchases rose sharply to 42 percent from 33 percent two years ago. However, comments we heard from readers reflect a certain resignation. “I wish I could wait, but I will have to have an engine overhaul soon,” said one reader. Added Brent Bunch, “I am worried. Mostly about cost. I am in the process of trading my high-compression, fuel-injected airplane for one that uses autogas. It would give me the most options.”
Bunch’s comment was repeated by many of the survey takers, suggesting there may be a growing acceptance of mogas as an alternative, even though only about 115 airports have it. We asked survey respondents how likely they would be to consider using mogas and 57 percent said they would, up from 49 percent two years ago. More significantly, in 2011, a nearly equal number (49 percent) said they wouldn’t consider burning mogas, but two years later that percentage dropped to just 24, suggesting that mogas’s negatives are down and it’s viewed more positively than it was two years ago. And some owners are doing something about this: More than one in five have asked their local FBOs to carry mogas and that percentage is also up from two years ago.
Wrote Stuart Kollas, “With an STC on a recently owned C-150, mogas was used as much as possible resulting in excellent running and reduced lead deposits. Mogas is burned almost exclusively in my present Rotax 912ULS which reduces the oil change requirement by one half. If the engine can safely use mogas, it is difficult to argue against it.”
The two biggest barriers against mogas usage, according to our survey, are lack of availability and doubts about the quality of the delivered fuel. Interestingly, the price difference against avgas doesn’t seem to be a major driver.
Only 5 percent of survey takers said they wouldn’t use mogas because it isn’t cheap enough compared to avgas. Nearly two thirds of respondents told us they think AOPA and EAA should get more involved in trying to get mogas on more airports.
We also asked readers if they followed the FAA’s Unleaded Avgas Transition group effort and the subsequent agency office to oversee the search for a new 100-octane unleaded fuel. While some 57 percent say they’ve followed this process, confidence in the FAA is quite low. Fewer than 5 percent said they were confident that the UAT-ARC process will yield a replacement soon, while 30 percent said they were somewhat confident.
“Special rulemaking is the problem. The FAA always over-bureaucratizes everything they do. This impedes progress. The FAA needs to relax their grip on GA,” observed Gene Meng. “I am not interested in committees, I am interested in action. This has been going on so long that I have no confidence in the process,” added another reader.
Regardless of attitudes toward future fuel supplies, flying activity doesn’t appear to be increasing, but eroding slightly. Two years ago, 32 percent of survey takers said they flew between 50 and 100 hours a year and that number held steady for 2013. But the number of pilots and owners who fly more than 100 hours has decreased slightly and the number who say they fly between 25 and 50 hours has jumped sharply from 17 percent in 2011 to 26 percent in 2013.
Despite more favorable views of mogas, we didn’t see much movement in reader opinions toward modifying a high-compression engine to burn a lower-octane fuel, either with water injection or lower-compression pistons. In 2011, 36 percent of owners told us they would be somewhat or highly likely to modify their aircraft for a lower octane fuel. In 2013, this number declined slightly to 32 percent.
ICAO Tackles Aviation Emissions
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has agreed by consensus to address the contribution aviation makes to climate change by 2016. However, the somewhat nebulous resolution, adopted in the closing hours of the ICAO's once-every-three-years general assembly in Montreal last week, apparently doesn't guarantee that any concrete measures will result, nor does it satisfy the concerns of environmental groups who largely viewed the measure as a delaying tactic. Nevertheless, aviation groups are ladling cautious praise on the resolution, which sets the next Triennial Assembly as the decision point for how the environment will be theoretically compensated for the conversion of jet fuel (avgas really isn't part of this picture) into the daily movement of millions of people and millions of pounds of freight around the world. Decisions made in Montreal three years from now won't take effect until 2020, assuming there is consensus at the next assembly. Although environmental groups found little to cheer about the resolution, aviation groups claimed a victory of sorts in that ICAO didn't adopt something like the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS).
EU-ETS is supposed to reward carbon-emitting entities for adopting practices and technology that reduce their carbon footprint. Those that don't address their emissions are penalized by having to buy credits from their more climate-savvy competitors. The so-called "cap and trade" system has been controversial and was rejected by the U.S. by way of a law that prevents U.S. airlines from taking part. National Business Aviation Association President Ed Bolen said the ICAO measure, while imperfect, at least shifts direction from the cap and trade method of encouraging emissions control. “The approach to international emissions-policy development approved this week breaks decidedly from the EU-ETS,” Bolen said in a news release. “Although far from perfect and certainly not everything we have worked for, it promotes an international dialogue that is focused on simple, more workable measures for addressing aircraft emissions – measures that can be built around various types and sizes of operators.” Bolen said business aircraft operators were unfairly treated under EU-ETS and the direction of ICAO's resolution may be more equitable.
Committee To FAA: PEDs Are Safe
Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs) are safe for use in all phases of flight on almost all aircraft, according to information soon to be released by an FAA advisory committee and made available to The Wall Street Journal. The committee's conclusions reportedly include scores of recommendations that include lifting current restrictions on WiFi use below 10,000 feet. The recommendations refer specifically to devices used to access onboard WiFi services. The findings are expected to add weight to arguments that support gate-to-gate use of personal electronics in the passenger cabin of commercial aircraft. Cellular access has not been approved. And for many commercial flights the recommendations may not usher in substantial changes.
According to the Journal, the committee will recommend that ground-based cellular connections remain unapproved for use on aircraft because the FCC prohibits airborne cellular service, but that WiFi use through an aircraft's WiFi system be allowed. The FCC's stance on the use of cellular communications on aircraft stems in part from concerns that cell service could interfere with communications systems. And the committee will reportedly recommend that the FCC and FAA reconsider their positions on that theory. But the focus of the recommendations will be to allow the use of onboard WiFi during all phases of flight. Presently, more than half of the commercial passenger aircraft operating in the U.S. have earned approval for onboard WiFi systems. And the only change expected to be supported by the forthcoming recommendations affects gate-to-gate use. Cellphones accessing WiFi services will still need to be operated with cellular capabilities shut down.
Dynon Adds WiFi To Portable EFIS
Dynon has introduced the D2, a small portable MEMS-based AHRS true artificial horizon with WiFi suitable for use by all pilots but not certified for aircraft flown outside of the experimental and light sport categories. The WiFi connectivity can be used to transmit real-time attitude, GPS ground speed, G's, track, and altitude to an aviation application (WingX Pro7, AOPA FlyQ, BendixKing myWingMan and specific others) for display on an iPad or other smart device. Compared to the D1, the D2 also adds an extra screen with a G-meter. The new product does not replace the old one but adds to Dynon's product line and alters pricing.
Dynon says the D2 sells for $1,425 and the original D1 will now take the price of $1,195. Both products offer accurate pitch and roll, according to Dynon, that can even accurately seek the horizon when turned on mid-flight. The AHRS in either unit also drives a slip/skid ball and turn rate indicator and an internal GPS displays GPS ground speed, altitude, vertical speed and ground track. Dynon says the D2 will be available starting Oct. 6 and will be shown at AOPA Summit in Ft. Worth, Texas, this Oct. 10-12.
Cautious Rollout For New Air Taxi Service
Two companies, Linear Air and Hopscotch Air, are hoping to spread awareness of, assess demand for, and then build on their new air taxi service launched Oct. 1, that operates the Cirrus SR-22 between White Plains, New York, and Boston. Both companies are involved in other sustaining ventures, so neither depends directly on the success of the new venture for their survival. Linear Air COO Peter Schmidt told AVweb this week he expects demand to develop slowly. "You can't stimulate demand for transportation by offering it to people. People travel when they need to travel. And people need to hear the message multiple times before they start to take the message seriously." And Linear Air has a plan in place to address that.
The new air taxi service is listed among the offerings for transportation at online outlets Kayak.com and Hipmunk.com, aside from direct access to booking via LinearAir.com/routes. It offers same-day out and back trips via the SR-22 between either White Plains and Logan or Bedford airports. Schmidt says that the service is starting slowly, having flown "a couple people in the aircraft for opening day, but business is slowly starting to ramp up. Says Schmidt, "It's exactly what I expected." Schmidt believes that in the early stages of the business, "scheduled service is as much about generating market awareness as it is about putting people in seats." And he hopes the superior experience of "more legroom, more comfort and a better view" will add favorably to a door-to-door trip time that cuts 2.5 hours off each leg (including time spent in lines associated with more traditional modes of aviation travel). Round-trip tickets are roughly $800 depending on which of the two Boston destinations are selected.
Podcast: Linear Air's Cautious Approach to SR-22 Air Taxi Service
Linear Air and Hopscotch Air have teamed up to offer new a air taxi service, flying the Cirrus SR-22 between White Plains, NY and Boston. But there may be something unique about their approach -- they're starting slow. Linear Air COO Peter Schmidt explains the service and why he thinks his company's business model is positioned for long-term success where others have tried and failed.
AVmail: October 7, 2013
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