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A Japan Airlines Boeing 787 was grounded early Wednesday because of an overheated cell in one of its lithium ion batteries. According to the Puget Sound Business Journal, the incident occurred about 4 a.m. local time at Tokyo's Narita Airport. The aircraft did not have any passengers aboard but was scheduled to fly to Bangkok two hours later. It appears that modifications made to the batteries and associated systems added to 787s after a three-month grounding in 2013 did their job in the incident. “The improvements made to the 787 battery system last year appear to have worked as designed,” Boeing said in a statement. “We sincerely regret any impact caused to Japan Airlines and are working with them to return this airplane to service.” One of the battery's eight cells overheated but it did not spread to the rest of the battery, suggesting the extra insulation installed in the batteries kept the heat from spreading. The containment and exhaust system encasing the battery apparently kept the heat from damaging anything else and the fumes were vented outside, according to the early reports.

JAL quickly found another plane for the Bangkok trip but the larger question of what impact the incident will have on 787 operations likely won't be clear until later Wednesday. It was a fire in a Japan Airlines 787 at Boston's Logan Airport a year ago, and an in-flight fire aboard an ANA Dreamliner a couple of weeks later, that led to the grounding of more than 50 of the aircraft worldwide for three months last year. The NTSB still hasn't issued its final report on those incidents. That report isn't expected until sometime next year.

Aircraft owners who want to upgrade their electronics to take advantage of NextGen capabilities will soon have a new fund they can apply to for financing, the Aircraft Electronics Association announced on Monday. The NextGen GA Fund will provide access to "quick, affordable financial incentives" to help aircraft owners install and certify WAAS-capable GPS, ADS-B In, ADS-B Out, RNAV/RNP avionics, data communications, SWIM, flat-panel displays, antennas, electronic components, and instrument panel modifications, AEA said. "The NextGen GA Fund will enable the retrofit of tens of thousands of general aviation aircraft," AEA said.

The fund is a public-private partnership between the U.S. Congress, the aerospace industry and the private-sector investment community. Starting with a capital base of $550 million, the fund will eventually provide some $1.3 billion in financing to the GA sector over the next 10 years, according to AEA. A special web portal to access the fund will launch this spring, AEA said. Using the portal, "member repair stations will be able to quickly and seamlessly refer customers to the NextGen GA Fund as a financing alternative to help provide the necessary resources in accomplishing important upgrades for more than 157,000 general aviation aircraft," AEA said.

"The NextGen GA Fund will help customers of AEA member repair shops move forward with the Jan. 1, 2020, ADS-B equipage mandate," said Paula Derks, AEA president. "It also will bring substantial private-sector capital to help pilots and aircraft owners overcome financial challenges to completing these safety-enhancing installations." Michael Dyment, general partner with the NEXA General Partnership, manager of the NextGen GA Fund, said the fund will protect the FAA's own $40 billion investment in NextGen infrastructure, for which aircraft equipage is essential. "An alternative to commercial bank financing alternatives, the NextGen GA Fund offers owners of general aviation aircraft the advantage to equip for NextGen without a large cash outlay or having to mortgage the aircraft in return," Dyment said.

A private-public partnership administered by the Aircraft Electronics Association will provide loans to those who need money to upgrade their aircraft to meet the ADS-B mandate.  AVweb's Russ Niles spoke with AEA President Paula Derks on how the program works and how AEA hopes it will streamline the transition to NextGen.

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The FAA has asked a California court to dismiss a lawsuit that aims to close Santa Monica Airport, and AOPA this week said the government's arguments are "compelling." Ken Mead, general counsel for AOPA, said the FAA argued that the city signed the property over to the federal government more than 65 years ago, and has repeatedly acknowledged the government's interest in the land over the intervening years. "These issues have been exhaustively researched, and like it or not, the city is obligated to keep the airport open," Mead said. "We hope the city will come to recognize that Santa Monica Municipal is a valuable economic asset as well as an important part of the regional and national transportation network."

The Santa Monica Daily Press said the FAA's response "looks strong to some people with opinions on both sides of the debate," and Airport Commission President David Goddard, an advocate for the airport’s closure, said the FAA's arguments were "beautifully written." However, he thinks the city will eventually prevail because of a clause in a post-World War II document that states the city can decide to stop operating the airport, in which case the federal agreement no longer applies. The FAA, however, said that in the current case, as long as the airport is still operating, the city isn't making a valid argument. City Hall has 10 days to respond to the FAA. Neighbors to the field have long complained about noise and pollution from the airport, and expressed concern about the danger to nearby residential areas from aviation accidents.

GAMA says Appropriations Committee leaders have called for a slight increase in funding for the FAA to research alternatives to 100LL. The administration included $5.571 million for the fuel research in its spending estimates but the committees agreed on $6 million. If it's approved by Congress, it will be one of only a handful of research programs getting more money than originally budgeted under the omnibus appropriations bill now going through the process in Washington. "Helping the industry to make the transition to unleaded fuel will ensure the long-term viability of general aviation, keep piston aircraft currently flying in out nation's skies safe, an improve the environment," said GAMA President Pete Bunce. The money will be used to help find a drop-in replacement for 100LL that will work in all piston aircraft, something Shell says it has already developed.

Bunce also noted the committees endorsed full funding of the FAA's aircraft certification operation and called for regular updates on efforts to streamline the system. The certification arm is in line for $212 million this year. Bunce said maintaining funding is important to the restructuring process. "Enabling the FAA's Aircraft Certification Service to operate in a more streamlined, efficient manner will allow our manufacturers to bring needed safety-enhancing products to the marketplace more quickly and easily," Bunce said. Congress still has to approve both funding levels as part of the $1.1 trillion in appropriations being considered.

The U.S. Sport Aviation Expo is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and the show is all set to go at Sebring Airport in central Florida starting Thursday. The show is the only one dedicated to the Light Sport aviation segment and was started shortly after the FAA created the new aircraft classification. Most of the leading airframers and secondary suppliers will be there with static displays and flight demos. A few days before the show, Progressive Aerodyne announced it had received FAA approval for the Elite version of its Light Sport amphib. The new aircraft sports a turbocharged Rotax 914 and a glass panel. Also among the exhibitors is Van's, which recently announced it will continue production of its ready-to-fly RV-12 Light Sport model. AVweb will be at the show and filing regular updates on our website and in Friday and Monday editions of AVwebFlash.

The show always has a packed agenda of forums and information sessions. This year's is headlined by CDR Barry Hull of Pilot Judgment Inc. with a presentation called The Number One Killer of Pilots and How to Prevent It. Anyone who wants to fly in certain kinds of controlled airspace, including those flying Light Sport aircraft, will have to have ADS-B equipment and Peter Ring, of Freeflight Systems, will offer a primer on the mandatory equipage issues. There are also lots of technical forums, including Phil Lockwood's annual session on the care and feeding of Rotax engines.

Just 18 days after being designated by the FAA as one of six federally approved test sites for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi will conduct several test flights over South Texas ranchland to continue research and training on the RS-16 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The RS-16 has a wingspan of 12 feet 11 inches, can carry a maximum payload of 25 pounds at a maximum speed of 65 knots, and can stay aloft for 12-16 hours. The recent FAA test site designation, announced Dec. 30, 2013, is expected to bring other UAS researchers to the University’s Lone Star UAS Center to expand research on new applications and safe integration of unmanned aerial technology into the national airspace system. A&M-Corpus Christi has an established UAS program, including extensive airspace authorized by the FAA for UAS operations. The RS-16 has flown several test flights since it arrived on campus in 2011.

During the Jan. 16 flights the drone will launch from a mobile operations center, fly east out of sight of ground observers, and will be monitored by a manned aircraft as it flies over Padre Island and the Gulf of Mexico. Regulations require that the drone remain under visual contact at all times. Researchers will make use of the multi-spectral camera that acquires video, ultraviolet and thermal images and can be used for mapping sea grass, monitoring pipeline routes, detecting wildfire hotspots or oil spills in the ocean and counting livestock. During the flights, researchers will work on development of technology to receive, monitor and track streaming video from the UAV and the mobile operations center at the launch site.

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Southwest Airlines says a third person on the flight deck of Boeing 737-700 that landed at the wrong airport in Missouri on Sunday was a company dispatcher who was authorized to be in the jump seat for the flight. The airline didn't elaborate on why the dispatcher was up front but said employees are permitted to fly in the jump seat with the consent of the pilots. Meanwhile the airline grounded both pilots of the flight on Monday pending an investigation. Both the NTSB and FAA are also investigating the incident. The flight had departed from Chicago Midway and was scheduled to land at Branson Airport, but the crew erroneously landed at M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport, in the town of Hollister, about six miles north of Branson. The pilots had to brake hard to stop before reaching the runway end, where an embankment slopes down to U.S. Highway 65. The captain has been with Southwest for 15 years, and the first officer has 13 years experience, according to an airline spokesman. Nobody was hurt in the incident.

The passengers were bussed to the Branson airport if that was their destination, and Southwest brought another airplane in on Sunday evening to take continuing passengers on to Dallas Love Field. The 737 departed from the Clark airport on Monday afternoon, and was flown to Tulsa, Okla., for fueling. All 124 passengers on the flight will receive a refund and travel credit "as a gesture of goodwill for the inconvenience," Southwest said in a statement. The NTSB said it has secured the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder from the aircraft, and investigators will interview the crew this week.

Pilot Keith Baird was flying his Cessna 210 with a new video camera on board for the first time, just after Christmas, when a Canada goose crashed through the windscreen, and he caught it on camera. Baird said he had just taken off from Brookeridge Airpark in Downers Grove, Ill., on Dec. 28 with one passenger, when he saw four geese. A small one, weighing just two pounds or so, crashed through the windscreen. Baird was smeared with blood and feathers, but said he quickly determined that the blood was from the bird and he was unhurt. He told himself to "aviate, aviate, aviate." He checked that the prop wasn't vibrating and the engine power was good, climbed to pattern altitude, checked that his passenger was OK, and came around to land safely.

Baird posted the video online this week, and told a local reporter that he felt very lucky. "A few degrees, a few inches off one way or the other, we would have had a different outcome," he said. He credited his pilot training with helping him to cope safely with the experience. "You over-learn this," he said. "Aviate, navigate, communicate. And when you overlearn it, it's amazing, it was there instantly in my head when this happened, and the training really paid off."

If the idea of a modern sport plane that has the retro styling of a 1930s monoplane is appealing to you, the SAM LS is worth a close look.  That's exactly what Aviation Consumer's Larry Anglisano brings you in this video.

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The smog in some Chinese cities is too severe to fly these days, but two new general aviation policies recently coming into play may hopefully clear the forward vision a little for the market players in China. First, the Chinese regulator Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) loosened licensing requirements for private pilot licenses (PPL). Second the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) handed over the regulatory power of GA flight operation permits to the civil regulator.

These policy changes are making progress for sure, but many implementation details still need to be worked out so the effect remains to be seen. This is not unlike many other policy changes made by Chinese government agencies. The effects of them are not always immediately clear.

The new private pilot licensing advisory circulars conform to FAA requirements for the private certificate. The most significant change is the physical exam requirement. Previously, Chinese PPL applicants had to be as physically fit as airline pilots, almost. The new physical requirement treats PPL applicants more like, well, private pilots. However the new rule is unlikely to displace the decimal in the bottom line of the cost for a Chinese ASEL private pilot license. Right now, that’s about $30,000 USD. In comparison, nowadays it costs about $500 USD to earn a Chinese driver’s license which is, itself, higher than what you have become accustomed to in the U.S. China’s GDP per capita, by the way, was little over $6100 USD in 2012. I suppose most Chinese student pilots are still more sensitive to the figure on their flight training bills than the red and green dots on color test plates at physical exam.

The most significant change that the new GA operation regulation makes is that finally, Chinese GA flight operators no longer need to apply for permits from the military for every single flight. This is a giant leap in China, especially considering the PLA literally controls every inch of the sky from the ground up.  Days and weeks, in many cases, are expected to be saved for Chinese GA operators after the policy change. However, the new rule does not specify which CAAC department is responsible for the permit, the application procedure or the possible approval time. So you can see what I mean when I say the effect of these policy changes takes time to become clear.  

These two new rules do not redraw the whole picture yet. The amended GA Flight Regulation, low-level airspace operation regulation and the utmost important low-level airspace categorization regulation, are all expected to be released this year and are highly anticipated by the industry. They should stir up the air more significantly. In addition, with the new policies mentioned above, Chinese GA operators would eventually have a complete set of new rules to follow. Chinese investors interested in GA in China have piled up big money, and they may have a piece of free sky to spend with sooner rather than later.

Stay tuned. 

Gou Xin is editor of Flying China magazine.

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There are cars in the parking lot and 46 employees working at the Mooney International plant in Kerrville, Texas as of Jan. 3, thanks to fresh investment from its new Chinese owners.  AVweb's Russ Niles was there and talked to Director of Engineering Bill Eldred about getting the production line going again.

In this week's Cub Theatre installment, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli provides a video examination of the runway turnback or the so-called "impossible turn."  Well, it's not impossible at all, although it's not necessarily easy.  If you want to try it, you'll need to practice it first.  And think about making the turnback decision before you take off, not when the engine crumps at 500 feet.