AVwebBiz - Volume 13, Number 5

January 28, 2014

FAA Streamlines RVSM Procedures

The FAA on Monday announced new procedures that will make it easier for operators to get approval to operate in RVSM airspace. "The new policy establishes a more flexible and efficient process," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. NBAA said it has been lobbying for the changes for several years. "Earlier guidance dictated that an inspection had to always begin at square one -- even for something as minor as a tail-number change," said NBAA's Mark Larsen. Huerta said the FAA now will consider previous operator and aircraft experience in determining the extent of an evaluation, and this will reduce the amount of time for operators to receive authorization. The new policy will benefit both aircraft operators and the FAA, according to NBAA.

Since 2005, RVSM -- reduced vertical separation minimums -- has allowed pilots in domestic airspace to fly with 1,000 feet of vertical separation rather than the previous 2,000 feet, at altitudes above 28,000 feet MSL. Larsen said NBAA is hopeful that "the lessons learned in developing this process can be applied to the broad range of other required approvals for business aircraft operations."

Huerta Stresses Weather At Safety Summit

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta met with GA leaders on Monday and urged them to tell their members to avoid weather traps in the coming flying season. Huerta told the leaders at the General Aviation Safety Summit that the GA accident rate has flattened over the last six years and last year there were 259 fatal accidents that killed 449 people. He said "a top priority" with the agency is to reduce those numbers and he asked for help from the leaders. "... I met with general aviation leaders to jump start our efforts for this year’s flying season and we agreed to work together to raise awareness to prevent weather related accidents for the upcoming flying season," he said in a statement.

Huerta said the agency is also taking a fresh look at data it already has to see if it can identify safety issues. "We’re also working with industry on a prototype program to use de-identified GA operations data in the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) program to help identify risks before they become accidents," Huerta said.

AOPA Apologizes For Schedule Conflict

In scheduling seven new fly-in events around the country for this year, AOPA ran into a conflict with members' religious duties, an oversight that AOPA President Mark Baker apologized for on Monday. "We know that our choice of Oct. 4 [for the Frederick, Md., Homecoming fly-in] is profoundly disappointing to our Jewish members, and we apologize for failing to recognize that possibility before committing to the date," Baker said, in an open letter posted on the AOPA website. Oct. 4 is the date for Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, one of the holiest days in the Jewish year. Baker said it's not possible to change this year's date, but in the future AOPA will be more careful to consider the religious calendar when scheduling events.

"Scheduling each event involved bringing together many factors both within and beyond our control, including airport availability, weather patterns, other aviation events, each city's preferences and obligations, and our own capacity to execute each fly-in," said Baker. "In planning the Frederick, Md., event, we had an extremely narrow window in which we could find space in the city of Frederick's calendar, anticipate reasonable weather, avoid conflicts with the nearby Leesburg, Va., airshow, and commit the resources needed to host this event." Baker invited those unable to attend the Maryland event to visit one of AOPA's other East Coast fly-ins, in Indianapolis, Ind.; Plymouth, Mass.; or St. Simons, Ga. "We know that these events may be farther from home for some of you, but we hope it will be worth the extra effort to join us," he said.

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Beechcraft Wins $127 Million Military Contract

Beechcraft has signed an agreement with the Royal New Zealand Air Force to provide 11 T-6C Texan II turboprop military training aircraft, plus spare parts, two simulators, training, logistics, and maintenance support, the company announced this week. "As the Royal New Zealand Air Force began the process of modernizing its pilot training capabilities, we were able to offer a proven, low-risk and highly capable solution that met their current and future training needs," said Russ Bartlett, president of the Beechcraft Defense Company.

The T-6C aircraft and simulators will support primary through advanced aircrew training before they move on to operational squadrons or the flight instructor course. The aircraft also will be flown by the RNZAF formation aerobatic team. Deliveries will start in November and will be complete by the middle of next year, Beechcraft said. The T-6 military trainers are also operated by the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, and military units in Canada, Greece, Israel, Iraq, Morocco, and Mexico. Beechcraft was recently bought by Textron.

Boeing Boosts Airliner Production

Boeing is building airliners as fast as it can and the result is a modest increase in the number it was able to deliver in the last quarter of 2013. The company cranked out 172 of its 737s, 777s and 787s in those three months, up from 165 the previous quarter thanks to increased production rates on all three lines. The increased demand for airliners and a growing order book will partly offset the decline in its military business and its quarterly report is anticipated to be generally positive on Wednesday. Boeing's own assessment of the performance of its flagship 787 isn't so rosy, however.

Earlier this week Mike Fleming, vice president for 787 support and services, said the Dreamliner's dispatch rate is about 98 percent, up from 97 percent in October. "I'll tell you that's not where we want the airplane to be, we're not satisfied with that reliability level of the airplane," Fleming said. By comparison, the 777 is ready to fly on 99.4 out of 100 flights. It's now building 787s at the rate of 10 a month.

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Research: AVweb Respondents Iffy On Autonomous Airliners

AVwebreaders, according to a recent research project, differ from the general public when it comes to their willingness to fly aboard an autonomous airliner with no pilot in the cockpit. Last October, Matt Vance, a researcher with the St. Louis University Center for Aviation Science, devised a survey to explore how people would react to flying without a crew, and 355 AVweb readers participated. Now the results are in, and Vance says AVweb readers were less eager than other respondents to take that flight. Overall, 44 percent of the total 1,506 respondents said the probability was greater than 50 percent that they would consent to fly aboard that future airplane. For AVweb respondents, that number was 36 percent.

The main factors that positively influenced the decision to fly on the autonomous airliner included automation sophistication, air traffic system response to interruptions, and 25 years of uneventful autonomous cargo operations, according to Vance. Factors that negatively influenced the decision to fly were a lack of confidence in the air traffic system's ability to respond to interruptions and a lack of relevant information provided in advance by the airline. The full results and analysis of Vance's research are posted online (PDF).

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Dangerous Flights: Good PR, Bad PR?

Surfing the untracked wilderness of modern cable television, my scroll-around sometimes lands on something interesting. Lately, it’s been a show called Dangerous Flights, another of the Discovery Channel’s reality series. These sorts of programs are called reality TV and if reality were scripted, they’d be accurately named. Otherwise, like a patient drifting in and out of a coma, the reality appears more often than I’d expect and often sharply focused.

Here’s the set-up. The series tells the story…oh, shoot, I’ll take this directly from the show’s Web site: “Dangerous Flights is the real deal: a high-testosterone action adventure series on the edge of aviation’s final frontier, starring the daring mavericks who risk their lives in the high-danger, no-holds-barred, high-stress business of aircraft delivery.” I gotta hand it to the copy writer on that one, that’s straight from the 1940s radio drama of insurance investigator Johnny Dollar, “the man with the action-packed expense account.” And the final frontier is flying a 210 from Maine to France? Funny, I’d of thought those guys in Mojave blasting people into space were a little more final frontiery. But I digress.

The basic narrative involves a start-up organization of ferry pilots delivering GA aircraft around the world for various clients. As is the fashion in TV, each episode—and we’re now just starting season two—usually details two deliveries on a parallel plot track. What would otherwise be a dull plot line is sexed up with some lead-in problem—a Cessna 210 with major fuel leaks, a Cirrus SR22 co-crewed by a graybeard pilot who’s never seen a G1000, a geriatric Cheyenne with dysfunctional avionics, a jet with avionics problems.

Despite the overhyped promo, pilots paying attention to this series might actually gain useful glimpses into how ferry work is done and how some of the decision-making happens. And also a sense of the risk. In a recent episode, the one involving the SR22, two pilots are ferrying the airplane from Singapore to Ohio. One of them, Kerry McCauley, is an experienced ferry pilot with numerous Atlantic crossings, but little Cirrus experience.

They’ll be doing the translant on the Blue Spruce route, westbound, in the winter. McCauley is caught on film having reservations about the wisdom of such a flight, explaining he’s done it enough times to wonder if he’s not pushing his luck. The outbound flight handler in Scotland is dubious, noting that he has a list of pilots who didn’t return from such trips. Whether staged for the camera or not, I thought that an accurate glimpse into the often unvoiced fears many of us have before launching on high-risk flights. Props to reality TV for coaxing it out of him.

In watching this program, I constantly wonder what the non-aviation literate think of it, for they’re the core audience. Naturally, all of us in GA want the industry to be accurately represented and, might as well admit it, promoted to a certain extent. While that’s obviously not the point here, I wonder if Dangerous Flights ends up doing that despite itself. Would a person watching this show find it exciting enough to want to pursue flight training or be put off by the over-dramatized danger, not the least of which is the title itself? I really can’t decide if the series paints GA in a favorable light for the non-pilot or not. You tell me.

But the reality sneaks through nonetheless. Including being boring, which the show occasionally is, just like most of the long flights I’ve been on. You can only sex up situation normal so much in 30 minutes. And just like real pilots, the ferry crews sometimes make marginal decisions, one of which was flying a Cheyenne of questionable maintenance history from the Philippines to Florida, a trip peppered with the kind of breakdowns, malfunctions and general mayhem that anyone flying older airplanes will recognize. But I wonder if the aviation-interested viewer will realize that stuff happens all the time.

I suppose these days, as long as they spell aviation and airplane correctly, we ought to be happy with any kind of publicity we get for the industry. At least Dangerous Flights does that.

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