AVwebBiz - Volume 12, Number 22

December 10, 2013

AMEs Object To FAA Apnea Policy

"Education of the many would have far greater public health impact than regulation of the few," the Civil Aviation Medical Association, which represents FAA aviation medical examiners, said in a recent letter to the FAA, regarding its proposed sleep-apnea policy. The letter (PDF), posted online Tuesday by EAA, objects to the FAA's proposal that AMEs should send pilot applicants to a sleep specialist if they exceed a certain body-mass index. "No scientific body or evidence has demonstrated that undiagnosed obesity or OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) has compromised aviation safety," wrote Dr. Mark Eidson, CAMA president. "The proposed policy would greatly burden a critically taxed medical certification system already suffering from very significant processing delays." The FAA responded on Monday with a memo to AMEs "stating that the new OSA screening had not been implemented and physicians should not include body mass index calculations as part of the airman medical examinations," according to EAA.

The FAA also said a formal notice would be issued prior to the policy's implementation. However, the letter to AMEs does not indicate FAA is reconsidering the policy, and EAA said it doesn't affect opposition to the policy by EAA, its Aeromedical Advisory Council, and CAMA.

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Pilot v. Airline Case Goes To Supreme Court

After an Air Wisconsin pilot was fired from his job and boarded a commercial flight to go home, his former employers alerted the TSA that he might be armed and mentally unstable, launching a legal dispute that made it to the Supreme Court this week. William Hoeper was fired in 2004 after he failed several simulator tests. Both sides agree he was upset, yelled at the instructor, and said he would complain to his union about unfair treatment. After dropping him off at the airport to catch a United flight, Air Wisconsin officials grew concerned and called the TSA. Hoeper was taken off his flight and detained. A Colorado court ruled in Hoeper's favor, but the airline appealed to the Supreme Court, claiming it should have legal immunity if it raises what it believes to be legitimate air-safety concerns, even if they turn out to be false.

According to Pete Williams, an NBC News correspondent who was present at the justices' debate, the court was concerned that Air Wisconsin had gone too far, but "seemed to be searching for a way to rule without discouraging other airlines from reporting behavior they find troubling." A total victory for Hoeper appears "unlikely," Williams said. The Court is not expected to announce a decision in the case until June. A complete transcript of the court's discussion (PDF) is posted online.

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WestJet 'Christmas Miracle' Draws Applause

As air travelers brace for the annual holiday ordeal that awaits many of them, Canadian budget carrier WestJet had a holiday miracle in store for passengers on two of its flights earlier this week. The airline began by creating present-shaped check-in kiosks at Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario airports for two flights bound for its hub of Calgary, Alberta. The kiosks featured a live online Santa in a blue suit (WestJet colors) who greeted them by name as they scanned their boarding passes. The Santa then asked them what they wanted for Christmas and that's when the real magic began.

By the time the doors closed on both flights, 175 WestJet employees in Calgary headed to a local mall and a Best Buy to gather up many of †the gifts requested by the passengers (see the blooper reel), including a big-screen TV, Thomas the Tank Engine and socks and underwear. The gifts were wrapped, tagged with the passengers' names and put on the baggage carousel about four hours later when the flights arrived. Santa in the funny-colored suit was there, too. The idea was hatched in August at a meeting with the airline's digital media contractor but the giving didn't end in baggage claim. WestJet said that if the YouTube video below reached 200,000 views it would give a free trip anywhere it flies to a family in need. The video hit the magic number late Monday but who knows what the airline will do as the numbers rack up. †(At press time, the video had already hit millions of views.)

Ed. Note: You really should watch the video.

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Bell Picks Lafayette For New JetRanger Production

Bell Helicopter has announced it will build its new Short Light Single helicopter at Lafayette Regional Airport in Louisiana. The SLS is a restart of the iconic JetRanger line, an updated five-seat turbine single that will include modern technology standard on bigger airframes. It's aimed at the utility, law enforcement and flight training sector and is seen as a strong export product. The project was announced at the Paris Air Show and Bell launched a competition for the manufacturing site.

Bell will spend $11.4 million in equipment and tooling and hire 115 people to build the new aircraft. Louisiana is paying for the hangar that will accommodate the factory. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said that in addition to the direct employment at the factory, there will be another 136 jobs created in support and supplier businesses in the Lafayette region. "Todayís announcement signals that Louisiana is ready to further expand its presence and leadership in the aerospace industry," Jindal said.

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What's Amazon Thinking?

I donít know about you, but Iíve found the reaction to Amazonís trial balloon to use drones to deliver packages quite curious. Itís been generally negative and several people whoíve Iíve talked to in casual conversation brought it up as a kind of †WTF. Are they really serious?

A poll done by HuffPost/YouGov found that 41 percent of those polled aren't sure if deliveries by drone are a good or a bad idea, 36 percent think itís a good idea and 22 percent replied that itís bad idea. (I'm with the not sures.) Most of the skepticism centers on technical issues such as battery endurance, range, speed, FAA regulations for low-altitude autonomous UASs and safety. Even Jeff Bezos said one thing theyíll have to sort out is how to keep the things from bonking people in the head while landing.

But none of the coverage I saw addressed this question: Why would Amazon want to do this? I get the PR value, assuming that if it works, Amazon looks like itís staying on the keen cutting edge, but my instantaneous first reaction was the economics of it. Think of it in the mass transit context.

If you take the bus to work, it costs you a fraction of what it costs to drive. The same economics apply to airline flying, too. You canít fly your personal airplane 1000 miles as cheaply as you can buy an airline ticket to cover the same distance.

UPS trucks are buses for boxes. The incremental cost of throwing more boxes on the truck is trivial, which is why UPS can ship stuff half way across the continent for under $10. But drone economics are the reverse. Thereís no economy of scale because each delivery is a dedicated event and scaling up may require more aircraft. Or more time. Maybe a lot of both. People assume that drones are cheap to operate because theyíre autonomous, require no pilot and the electric-powered ones require no fuel. They do require recharging, so thereís real expense there, but they are more efficient.

As weíve reported before, Diamond is making quite a tidy little business out of selling piloted sensor aircraft to compete in markets where drones could easily do the work. The reason is that drones require significant infrastructure to set up and manage and that requires people and investment. Not to mention delays in clearing airspace. So for the time being, itís still cheaper to used manned aircraft in many instances where UAS might otherwise be deployed.

Bottom line: The UPS truck might bring the package for $7, but the drone will cost $30. Iím making up numbers here, but you get the drift. Also, at least for the foreseeable future, a drone of the size Amazon envisions has short range. Like under 10 miles. So unless you live within that radius of one of Amazonís 60 fulfillment centers, you wonít be seeing a drone on your doorstep, unless it belongs to NSA.

Not that this would necessarily stop a company like Amazon from marching forward. Forget the mass transit economics for a minute and apply Facebook economics. Tech companiesóespecially web tech companiesódonít necessarily operate to the same economic rules as the rest of the business world. If they did, Twitter wouldnít have a $25 billion market value.

So even if it costs four times as much to deliver a package by drone as by truck, you can easily imagine how a company like Amazon might do it anyway, losing bundles on each sale, just for that priceless cachet of leadership. Audacity never comes cheap. And what hell, if I knew my new HD Fire SBX was arriving via drone in the next 30 minutes, I can think of worse things to do than watch it use the Pineapple Palm in the front yard as a stepdown fix.

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

Video: Tempest Spark Plug Tester -- Resistance Isn't Futile

If you do your own airplane maintenance, that work will include checking spark plugs. †Tempest says checks should include resistance measurements and they've developed a little gadget to do that.

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Video: A Visit to Hawker Pacific in Shanghai

AVweb visits Hawker Pacific in Shaghai.

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