AVwebFlash - Volume 20, Number 18b

November 6, 2013

FAA’s Financial Constraints And Certification Backlog

The FAA’s processes combined with financial constraints have created a bottleneck that has held up roughly 1,000 certifications, industry representatives told a House aviation subcommittee last month — and it could get worse, they said. “In the past year alone, the certification office lost resources due to the sequester, instituted a hiring freeze, and had staff furloughed for more than two weeks due to the government shutdown,” vice president of civil aviation at the Aerospace Industries Association, Ali Bahrami, said. Bahrami warned too that the industry “continues to grow,” and existing budget challenges make the FAA’s ability to keep up with the industry, “not in the realm of possibilities.” There may be regulatory changes coming that will help, but the financial challenges remain.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta recently noted the FAA’s budget constraints and suggested changes in the agency may be necessary. “I think we need to ask ourselves to ask you — our stakeholders — whether we really want to and need to do everything the way we’ve always done it,” Huerta last month told the Washington Aero Club. Revisions to the FAA’s regulatory structure required by yet to be signed legislation is specifically intended to streamline the certification process, but not sooner than Dec. 15, 2015, the deadline set by the legislation’s current language. The bill has been approved by the Senate and awaits further action by the House before moving to the president to be signed into law. Meanwhile, the FAA’s current system for approving new technology has drawn criticism from the assistant inspector general for aviation audits, Jeffrey Guzzetti. According to Guzzetti, the FAA presently “lacks an effective method to prioritize new certifications.” In practice, those methods left new operators, aircraft, and repair stations waiting — 130 of them for more than three years, he said.

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New iPads Aviation App-Ready

Three of the major players in the tablet navigation business say the new iPad products are fully compatible and are noticeably faster at getting information to the pilot. "ForeFlight Mobile version 5.4.4 (already available for download from the App Store) is fully compatible with the iPad Air," said ForeFlight CEO Tyson Weihs. "The air screams -- the best evidence of this is the speed with which ADS-B in-flight weather from Stratus loads on the Airs." Hilton Goldstein, of Hilton Software, was similarly enthusiastic about the iPad Air for WingX. "WingX Pro7 runs faster on the Air and we have also included some significant new performance improvements in the app -- so WingX Pro7 appears 'turbo-charged' on the Air," said Goldstein. Both companies are expecting the soon-to-be-released iPad Mini Retina to be similarly competent. Meanwhile, Jeppesen says the new Air has passed a physical challenge many of the customers for its Mobile FliteDeck product need to know it will survive.

Jeppesen announced that it has rapidly decompressed an iPad Air from as high as 51,000 feet and the tablet kept working properly. "The successful tests were completed to an altitude of 51,000 feet and are part of the program used by operators to obtain FAA authorization for in-flight use of Jeppesen’s industry-leading mobile app solutions on iPad," the company said in a news release. It did similar tests on all previous models and all passed with flying colors. "No anomalies were detected during testing of any of the iPad models," Jeppesen said. The new iPad Air is designed to run existing iPad apps, including those from Jeppesen, “as is.”

First Flight For British Single-Seater

A British company has designed and flown a new airplane, the e-Go, powered by a Rotron wankel rotary engine. The design fits into the Single Seat De-Regulated class, established by the UK in 2007, which is similar to the U.S. ultralight class. The e-Go flew for the first time last week, completing several test flights and a demo flight for supporters and the press. With a top speed of 135 knots, the airplane is too fast to qualify as an ultralight in the U.S., but the developers are taking deposits for copies in the UK. It sells for about $80,000. They also plan to develop an experimental kit version and an LSA for the U.S. market. "We set out to design a fun flying machine," company founder Tony Bishop told the BBC. "It's lighter and faster and more fun to fly, we think, than anything that's out there."

Images courtesy of e-Go aeroplanes

The lightweight, custom-designed Rotron engine is one of a "new breed of wankels," according to the company website, and is "proving to be very smooth and reliable." The engine, together with very low drag, delivers about 70 mpg, for a range of 330 nm. The single-seat cockpit is designed to accommodate "a 99th percentile US Army guy," according to the website. "That’s 6 feet 4 inches and 220 lbs. The height allows for a headset. And the hip width is 17.8 inches … So even you McDonald's lovers should fit." The e-Go can operate out of a 1,000-foot grass strip, and is equipped with an MGL electronic flight instrument system.

First flight of the e-Go from eGo aeroplanes on Vimeo.

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Lighthawk Seeks More Volunteer Pilots

Photo courtesy of LIghthawk

Lighthawk, a nonprofit group based in Wyoming that works to use volunteer airplanes and pilots to promote environmental conservation around the world, recently was awarded a grant from AOPA to help expand outreach efforts. The group was one of 10 recipients of $10,000 grants in AOPA's first "Giving Back" awards, which were announced at AOPA Summit. "This program is our way of supporting those groups that are making a difference through charitable programs that rely on general aviation," said Stephanie Kenyon, vice president of strategic philanthropy for the AOPA Foundation.

The grant will help Lighthawk recruit more volunteer pilots at events around the country. The group is especially looking for more pilots with larger aircraft, such as PC-12 turboprops, that have the range, speed, and capacity to help transport larger animals between zoos for captive breeding programs. Traveling by private aircraft is the best way to minimize the stress on the animals, chief program officer Ryan Boggs told AVweb recently, at the Summit in Fort Worth, Texas.

Podcast: Lighthawk Needs You -- And Your Airplane

Lighthawk, a non-profit group based in Wyoming, recently won a grant from the AOPA Foundation to help them expand their outreach efforts across the country.  At AOPA Summit in Fort Worth, Texas, Lighthawk outreach manager Greg Bedinger and program officer Ryan Boggs spoke with AVweb's Mary Grady to explain how general aviation pilots can help in their efforts to protect endangered species.

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Police Suspect Suicide In Fall From Helicopter

A 61-year-old man flying Tuesday as passenger in a Robinson R44 tour helicopter near Newport Beach, Calif., appears to have opened the door and jumped out while roughly 500 feet above the ocean, according to local police. The man was recovered from the water and later pronounced dead at an area hospital. First reports state that the man paid $310 in advance for a 30-minute coastal tour for two, but arrived alone. During the flight the man opened the helicopter’s door and jumped out while the pilot attempted to restrain him, the pilot’s father told the Los Angeles Times. Details offered by the deceased man’s brother may offer some explanation.

Information acquired so far by the FAA appears to concur with the pilot’s account. “The only passenger on board opened the door and jumped into the water,” FAA spokesman Ian Gregor told local news stations via email. The tour was booked through Cardinal Air Services, which is operated by a local news station pilot. Local police are investigating the incident as a possible suicide. Both the FAA and Newport Beach police are investigating the incident. The deceased man’s brother reportedly said his brother suffered from a debilitating medical condition and had been unable to fund the treatment he needed.

"Jetman" Rossy Flies Mount Fuji

Yves Rossy flew his unique jet-powered wingsuit above Mount Fuji nine times last week, as part of a celebration of the mountain's official designation as a World Heritage Site. Each of the flights lasts about 10 minutes. When the fuel is exhausted, Rossy deploys a parachute for landing. It was Rossy's first flight in Asia. "It's a fantastic privilege to be a little mosquito flying in front of that big mountain," Rossy told reporters on Wednesday. "It's really impressive. It's a perfect form, a huge mountain, a huge volcano, a presence that you can feel on the ground and also in the air."

Rossy made his first public flights in the U.S. earlier this year, with demonstrations of the jetpack at EAA AirVenture and the Reno air races. He spoke with AVweb's Glenn Pew at Oshkosh for a video interview. For video from last week's flights in Japan, click here.

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FAA Issues Final Pilot Training Rule

A final rule affecting how airline pilots are trained went into effect on Tuesday, the FAA announced. The rule, which stems mainly from investigations following the Colgan Air crash in 2009, has long been in the works, and recently was delayed by the federal government's shutdown over funding disputes. The rule, which the FAA said will cost the industry up to $354 million to implement, requires new ground, simulator, and flight training to change how pilots address and recover from stalls. "The rule marks a major step toward addressing the greatest known risk areas in pilot training," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. "I'm also calling on the commercial aviation industry to continue to move forward with voluntary initiatives to make air carrier training programs as robust as possible."

Air carriers will have five years to comply with the rule’s new pilot-training provisions, which will allow time for the necessary software updates to be made in flight simulation technology, the FAA said. The new training aims to help pilots to prevent and recover from aircraft stalls and upsets. The new rule also establishes new tracking standards for air carriers to monitor pilot performance and provide remedial training. It also mandates new runway safety procedures and expanded crosswind training, including training for wind gusts. The estimated benefit to the industry is nearly double what it will cost to implement the rule, according to the FAA, at $689 million. The final rule is available online (PDF).

City Sues To Close Santa Monica Airport

The Santa Monica Airport belongs to the city, officials said in a lawsuit filed last week, challenging the FAA's claim that the field must be operated "in perpetuity." The city reportedly would like to close the busy airport, which is surrounded by residential neighborhoods, and the recent fatal crash there has intensified opponents' complaints about safety concerns. The suit says the 1948 agreement between the city and federal authorities was unconstitutional, and asks the court to name the city as owner of the airport's 227 acres. The airport is home to several flight schools and nearly 300 aircraft, and is a popular destination for business jets.

The FAA has said the city must operate the airport at least until 2023 because of assurances it gave in exchange for federal airport improvement grants. During World War II, the airport was taken over by the Defense Department, which invested in improving the runways and facilities. After the war, the field was returned to the city with the stipulation that it remain an airport. AOPA says the suit by the city "lacks any merit" and is simply a "desperate bid" by the city to close the field. AOPA added that it recently conducted a survey and found that 70 percent of Santa Monica residents support keeping the airport open.

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Airline Security: A Return to Sanity?

I can think of only one word to describe an airline passenger who goes through the TSA’s new streamlined security and feels vaguely grateful for having his rights somewhat restored. The word is pathetic, yet that was me last week when, entirely by random, I got shunted into the TSA’s new TSA Pre security procedure.

Basically, what TSA Pre is is a return to pre-9/11 airline security, at least at the gate. That means your bags go through the scanner, but your computer stays inside and your shoes stay on. You get a trip through the metal detector, but no backscatter scanner. In other words, it’s a return to sanity in the world of airline security. And it took 12 years to get here. Astonishing, really, but still welcome.

I got put into the TSA Pre line entirely by random chance, since it was undergoing testing two weeks ago when I flew to Las Vegas for NBAA. But you can apply for TSA Pre here and if you already have or intend to apply for Global Entry, TSA Pre, I’m told, can be granted as well.

I arrived at Tampa and headed for the long security line, which I’m used to by now. But a TSA agent looked at my ticket and directed me to a special aisle where there was no line. A second check of the boarding pass, the scanner and bag check and I was airside. If it took 90 seconds, I’d be surprised. I almost felt guilty. Almost.

“Don’t get used to it,” a TSA agent told me on the return flight from Las Vegas. As the program is more widely deployed, TSA Pre will be available to more passengers. That’s fine with me because it’s vastly faster than the bottleneck of removing computers, shoes, belts and other scanner unfriendly items and/or getting behind people who don’t understand they have to do this stuff.  On a busy travel day, the way we’ve been doing it is an ordeal at best.

The government says TSA Pre is an attempt to stop poking and prodding millions of passengers who, often demonstrably through frequent trips, represent no threat to aviation security and to apply intelligence-based solutions to the airline security problem. Maybe all that snooping NSA is doing has finally caused them to figure out that your typical domestic airline passenger never represented a threat to security and likely never will. Perhaps they’ve learned to actually look where the threats really are. At least that’s what they say. I’ll take what I can get, thanks.

That’s not to say, by the way, that I think airline security isn’t necessary. It obviously is. I do want the carry-on bags scanned and the metal detector deployed. For while it’s okay if I carry aboard a firearm, no one else should be allowed to, since I know I’m one of the good guys. But you? Maybe not. I'm sure you feel the same.

We’ll see where this goes, but so far, I like what I’m seeing. Over the weekend, I spent some time with David Wartofsky at Potomac Airfield. Hit hard by the Washington, D.C. government megastructure, Potomac almost ceased to exist as an operating airfield after 9/11. As a survival reaction, Wartofsky got a better view of the government security rabbit hole than most of us and he thinks TSA Pre is one of a number of initiatives TSA director John Pistole is launching as a genuine means of reducing the intrusion of aviation security. I sure hope so. The country is swimming in security and surveillance and aviation needs all the breaks it can get at every level.

Join the conversation.  Read others' comments and add your own.

Video: Redbird's Game Theory Flight Training Idea

Game theory is gaining favor as a means of training in all sorts of disciplines, and now Redbird wants to try it with aviation.  At the company's third annual Migration training conference in San Marcos, Texas on Tuesday, Redbird's Jeff Van West explained the new program.  It's currently in the experimental and testing phase but could be ready for a more complete rollout in three years or so.

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Video: AVweb's Tim Cole Reflects on China

AVweb's Tim Cole recently completed a trip to China and the China General Aviation Congress at Xi'an.  Here are some closing observations.

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