AVwebBiz - Volume 12, Number 19
November 19, 2013
FAA Defends Sleep Apnea Rule
The FAA is showing no signs of backing off a controversial new policy to detect and treat obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). As we reported in an exclusive story on Monday, Federal Flight Surgeon Dr. Fred Tilton is ordering Aviation Medical Examiners to automatically refer pilots (and at some point in the future, controllers) with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 40 to be assessed by medical sleep specialists to determine if they have OSA, which Tilton says they almost certainly do. They won't be able to fly until they're successfully treated. The policy is expected to spread to less chunky pilots as Tilton is apparently intent on eliminating OSA among the pilot (and later, controller) population. FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the new rules are in response to NTSB safety recommendations (PDF). "The updated sleep apnea guidelines that we plan to implement are designed to help airmen and aviation safety by improving the diagnosis of unrecognized or untreated obstructive sleep apnea," Brown said in a statement.
The new rule has lit up pilot forums and prompted reaction from alphabet groups. EAA was quick to respond to the news with a detailed admonition of the policy.† "We are joining in the call for an immediate suspension of this policy and thorough review of its need and justification," said EAA's vice president of advocacy and safety, Sean Elliott. "There has been no evidence of sleep apnea as a cause or factor in more than a decade of general aviation accidents reviewed by FAA's own General Aviation Joint Steering Committee, in which EAA participated." AOPA did not provide direct comment to AVweb but did compose its own news story on its website reacting to the story.
This story was corrected to remove the reference to neck circumference as a trigger for referral to a sleep specialist based on a reader observation and confirmation from the FAA.
Medevac Learjet Down Off Fort Lauderdale
Two people are confirmed dead and two others are missing after a Learjet headed for Mexico from Fort Lauderdale went down off the coast of Florida late Tuesday. According to the Miami Herald, the aircraft was on a medevac flight from Cozumel to Fort Lauderdale and was on the return flight after dropping off a patient. There were two pilots, a nurse and a doctor on board when the aircraft crashed about three miles off the coast.
At least 10 boats and numerous personnel were involved in the search for the other two aircraft occupants. The pilot reportedly called a Mayday and asked to return to Fort Lauderdale shortly after takeoff. The Herald said he told controllers he'd turn 180 degrees to turn back to the field.
Russian Officials Blame Crew In Fatal Crash
Just three days after 50 people died in the crash of a Boeing 737 in Russia, a government panel said the pilots climbed too steeply after their first missed landing attempt, then lowered the nose to try to gain speed, but they overcompensated and sent the airplane into a near-vertical dive. The Interstate Aviation Committee said there were no problems with the airplane or any of its systems, according to The Associated Press. The report was based on an analysis of the flight data recorder. The cockpit voice recorder's tape has not been found, the AP said, although the box itself was recovered.
An official from Tartarstan Airlines said in a news conference on Tuesday that the two pilots had undergone all the required instruction, and their total time was 1,900 and 2,500 hours. Neither of the pilots had any known prior experience with executing a second landing attempt in the 737, the official said. The airplane, which was 23 years old, had undergone regularly scheduled maintenance last week, just two days before the crash. The FDR showed the airplane's engines and other systems all were working fine up to the moment of impact, according to the AP. The report also said the climb and subsequent dive lasted about one minute, and the aircraft hit the ground at about 280 mph, according to the AP.
Boeing Winning Dubai Orders Race
The biennial Dubai Air Show seems to be supplanting Paris and Farnborough as the place Boeing and Airbus go to duke it out in the orders numbers game. As of Day 3 of the show, more than $160 billion in orders had been placed (breaking the previous record of $155 billion) and Boeing had gathered two-thirds of it. Most of those were for the 777X, a more fuel-efficient and technologically advanced version of one of its most successful designs. A total of 259 orders were placed for what is still a paper airplane whose assembly location also hasn't been set thanks to labor issues at Boeing. By comparison the current flagship 787 attracted a modest 30 orders. Airbus earned 50 orders for the A380 from Emirates.
The huge orders, most of them from Persian Gulf-based airlines, highlight the growing importance of the region as a transportation hub. "We are in the center of a region with the world's fastest-growing aviation infrastructure, fastest-growing airlines and a region where security commitments are in focus," Sharief Fahmy, chief executive of F&E Aerospace, the airshow's organizer, said in a statement on the show's website. The airshow is also gaining prominence among military aircraft manufacturers.
Learjet 75 Now FAA-Certified
The Learjet 75 has completed FAA certification, Bombardier has announced. The jet was introduced in May 2012 at the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition in Geneva. It's based on the fuselage of the Learjet 45, with new Honeywell engines and winglets, plus a new interior and an updated flight deck. About two dozen of the airplanes have reportedly been sold to Flexjet, but the first copy has been delivered to a private owner, a businessman based in Florida. Five more will go to a Canadian charter operator.
The jet carries eight passengers in double-club seating. Maximum range is 2,040 nm at cruise speeds up to Mach 0.81. New Honeywell TFE731-40BR engines provide a 12 percent improvement in takeoff field length, according to Bombardier. New Garmin G5000 avionics are featured in the Vision flight deck, with widescreen displays and touchscreen controls.
Reform the FAA? How Would You Do It?
If you woke up tomorrow and were suddenly King, to be challenged by no man or woman and could do as you please with, say, the FAA, what would you do? Sixty three percent of you would reform it from top to bottom if the results of last weekís poll†question were accurate.
Surmising that this equates to a politicianís negatives, can we extrapolate that the FAA has a 63 percent disapproval rating? Perhaps thatís a reach, but even Iíll admit that I was surprised at how many people would overhaul the FAA if given the chance. The sentiment is worth examining because, frankly, itís impractical. What you really want to overhaul is Congress. We get a chance to do that every two years and fail at it. Miserably.
You can prove me wrong in the comment section below, but I think if asked to advance to the front of the class and stand before the whiteboard listing ways to reform the FAA, most of us couldnít do much specific with the question. And those of us who could might be pulled up short by the smart kids in the first row who would say things like, ďwell, actually, Congress requires the FAA to do that.Ē One ambitious reader wrote us to say rather than reform it, we should just do away with the FAA entirely. He didnít offer a timeline, but I got the feeling he had in mind a couple of weeks.
But seriously, to understand the challenge of reforming or eliminating the FAA, itís helpful to understand where it came from. Itís basically the manifestation of society seeing a governmental role in promoting, building and regulating an aviation transportation system that everyone knew would become a big deal. As a country, we were right to do that. Now as all government agencies tend to do, the FAA has metastasized to the point that its original mission may be obscured and we all know some of the FAAís regulations give the word excess a bad name. But on balance, snipping away the polyps of really bad law would be a challenge indeed.
One reason for this is that ďreformĒ suggests a fundamental reset of the way the agency works when whatís really needed is a reshaping of some of its administrative initiatives. For exampleóthe first bullet on my whiteboard--everyone hates the Third Class medical, except for maybe the AME community. No one cites meaningful data proving that it materially improves safety, yet through administrative inertia going back a half a century, weíre stuck with it. But getting rid of it wonít require FAA reform, just a champion somewhere in the agency or in Congress. By now, I donít even think it requires much political or bureaucratic exposure to achieve it. Itís just that the stars havenít aligned yet. They will eventually.
You want radical? Iíll give you radical. Iíd like to see the FAA all but entirely out of the certification business for aircraft under a certain weight. Six thousand pounds is the magic number tossed around. Essentially, thatís where we are with LSA manufacturing. The industry self polices with just cursory FAA oversight. The ongoing revision of Part 23 heads generally in this direction, but Iím not sure it goes far enough and I have been skeptical that it will play out with meaningful effect.
Still, Congress is in on the game and last month, the Senate passed the Small Airplane Revitalization Act of 2013 that gives the FAA the enabling legislation to write specific regulations. This is, at least, is a step in the right direction and may even constitute reform of sorts. Even if we in the U.S. wanted yet more streamlined cert rules, itís not clear to me that itís possible unless the rest of international† agencies who participated in this revision go along. If you think the FAA is composed of competitive Duchies, you ought to get a taste of the European Union.
Itís almost accepted fact that the FAAóand government in generalóis rife with waste and duplication. While I think this is probably true, I donít think itís nearly as widespread as most of us assume. A popular suggestion is to simply reduce the FAAís budget by some arbitrary amountómaybe 5 percentóand let it deal with it. Itís the whither-it-on-the-vine strategy. With less money, the FAA wonít be able to interfere as much. Nice idea, but it only works if the agencyís responsibilities are commensurately reduced. Otherwise, all you achieve is reducing government resources to do the same amount of work, making things worse. (See Congress, above.)
What about privatization of these services? Always a possibility. Canada has done that and so has New Zealand. We donít hear complaints about socialized air traffic control. Well, maybe we do. Feel fee to comment on the topic below, pro or con.
In the end, I think if most of us had a clearer view of what we let the Congress ask the FAA to do and how that sausage gets squeezed through the grate, we would have a more realistic view of what ďreformĒ actually means. Even small government acolytes might find themselves surprised if approach procedures and facilities start disappearing, AIP projects dry up and pilot certification becomes even slower than it already is if budgets are simply slashed without Congress also removing things from the FAA plate. I just donít see how itís possible to have one without the other so if youíre reform minded, be careful what you wish for.
Video: BendixKing's KT74 Mode S Transponder
Responding to the growing demand for ADS-B-capable equipment, BendixKing is rolling out a new Mode-S transponder called the KT-74. †AVweb got a tour of it at AirVenture last July.
Video: Pilatus PC-12NG Flight Review
With a cruise speed of around 270 knots and a price tag of nearly $5 million, the 2013 Pilatus PC-12NG isn't the fastest or the least expensive single-engine turboprop on the market. †It is, however, arguably in a class of its own. †That's because it has a cabin that can carry 1,200 lbs. of payload while carrying over 400 gallons of fuel, the ability to operate from unpaved runways, and a huge 53x52-inch cargo door. †In this video, Aviation Consumer's Larry Anglisano takes a look at the airplane.
Video: Experimental Lighter-Than-Aircraft Rally (XLTA) 2013
At an annual fly-in in Connecticut, pilots who design and build their own hot-air balloons gather to fly their aircraft, learn from each other, and try out new ideas.