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By law, the FAA has dropped the controversial “biographical profile” for prequalified (college program and military veteran) air traffic control trainee applicants and will hire 1,400 new trainees this year. Applications will only be taken from Aug. 8-15 at the U.S. government’s official jobs website but applicants can set up an online profile before that. In an announcement earlier this week, the agency said it was creating two streams of new applicants. Those who have college diplomas and those who have military air traffic control experience will not be subject to the mysterious written test that has washed out hundreds of military controllers and graduates of Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI) programs since 2013. The latest FAA reauthorization barred the agency from using the test for graduates and veterans but “off-the-street” applicants will still go through the process. 

The FAA expects 25,000 applications for the 1,400 jobs and it’s not clear if the CTI and veteran applicants will enjoy the preference they did in the past. Until the reauthorization was passed, there was no indication the FAA intended to change the practice. As we reported extensively, the controversial hiring regimen was accused of being corrupt, caused hundreds of college and military candidates to be disqualified, and resulted in a lawsuit. But the agency did nudge the prequalified potential applicants by clearly outlining the requirements for them to skip the biotest. CTI graduates will have to submit “proof of graduation and an appropriate recommendation from the CTI institution,” and veterans will need “a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty within 120 days of the announcement closing.” Those selected get free training at the FAA’s facility in Oklahoma City but it’s a tough course and the washout rate is significant.

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Artist's conception, via Airbus

Airbus engineers based in Silicon Valley are working to develop “an autonomous flying vehicle platform,” called Vahana, that could provide transport for both passengers and cargo, the company has announced. Flight tests of the first vehicle prototype are slated for the end of 2017. Ultimately, the system could operate similarly to car-sharing applications, with the use of smartphones to book a vehicle, Airbus says. “We believe that global demand for this category of aircraft can support fleets of millions of vehicles worldwide,” said Rodin Lyasoff, the Airbus engineer leading the project at A3, the Airbus innovation outpost in Silicon Valley. “In as little as 10 years, we could have products on the market that revolutionize urban travel for millions of people.”

“Many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors and avionics are most of the way there,” said Lyasoff. The project will also need reliable sense-and-avoid technology, which is starting to be introduced in cars, but Airbus says no mature airborne solutions currently exist. “That’s one of the bigger challenges we aim to resolve as early as possible,” Lyasoff said. Since large numbers of vehicles would be needed, development, certification and manufacturing costs go down. “A3 is powering ahead with Vahana, and as is typical for Silicon Valley, the company thinks in terms of weeks, not years,” Airbus said. Officially underway since February, the project’s team of internal and external developers and partners has agreed on a vehicle design and are beginning to build and test vehicle subsystems.

Meanwhile, developers in France and Germany are working on an electrically operated platform concept for multiple passengers, Airbus said. This aerial vehicle, which goes by the working title of CityAirbus, would have multiple propellers and would resemble a small drone in its basic design. While initially it would be operated by a pilot – similarly to a helicopter – to allow for quick entry into the market, it would switch over to full autonomous operations once regulations are in place, directly benefitting from Vahana’s contribution. The feasibility study has already been completed and the conclusion is favorable, Airbus said. Customers would use an app to book a seat on a CityAirbus, proceed to the nearest helipad and “climb aboard to be whisked away to their destination,” Airbus said. Unlike Vahana, several passengers share the aircraft.

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Moon Express, a Cape Canaveral-based private company, announced this week it has received government approval to send an autonomous lander to the moon and plans to do so next fall. The multi-agency collaboration with the company includes NASA and the FAA. The approval puts Moon Express in the lead among other contenders for the $20 million X Prize for the first company to land a mobile robot on the moon and transmit video and images back to Earth in 2017. Tests with a lunar lander design have been underway for the last couple of years at Kennedy Space Center.

“Yes, that’s a literal moon shot,” Moon Express co-founder Naveen Jain told Bloomberg in a video interview on Wednesday. The project “is really symbolic of what a small group of people and the dedicated entrepreneurs can achieve.” The company’s long-term goals are to send humans to live on the moon and use its water and mineral resources to generate fuel for sending spacecraft to Mars and beyond, Jain said. In recent days the company's website has listed several openings for engineers at its Cape Canaveral headquarters.

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One firefighter is dead and more than a dozen injured when an Emirates Boeing 777 burst into flames today after an emergency landing at Dubai's airport. All 300 passengers and crew were able to evacuate safely, but flames consumed the airliner, Reuters reported. An estimated thirteen were taken to a hospital.

A landing gear problem and an attempted go-around were reported. While the pre-landing condition of the airliner hasn't been confirmed, news outlets say the gear could have collapsed, sparking the fire. The accident is under investigation. A video on NBC News shows the airliner on the ground with a ball of fire erupting and tearing off a piece of the aircraft as black smoke billowed from the flames. "The fire began to spread rapidly and by the time the fire engines got there the entire top half of the plane was on fire," according to a network official who was in the airport terminal.

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SocialFlight.com features a big selection of flying competitions and fun aircraft to see this weekend. Spirit of Flight in Erie, Colorado, will host its Hot Rods and Wings event Saturday, inviting cars, motorcycles and aircraft to join the crowd and enter judging for best-in-show trophies. Visit the museum during the event and enjoy a pancake breakfast.

Join the Montana Antique Aircraft Association Thursday through Saturday for its Three Forks Fly-In. Thursday morning will feature Young Eagles flights, followed by activities including flying contests, an interactive drone display and a unique flying 1928 Boeing-40.

On Saturday, the Indy Air Race and 10th Annual Open House and Fly-In will take place at KTYQ Indy Executive Airport. The event also includes static displays, fly-bys, aircraft and helicopter rides, candy drop, parachute jump and food all day long. Proceeds benefit Down Syndrome Indiana.

Also Saturday, the Wings of Dreams Aviation and Space Museum will host a benefit breakfast buffet in Starke, Florida. Breakfast is free for World War II and Korean War veterans. Join the tour of aviation and space artifacts afterwards.

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AVweb’s search of news in aviation found announcements from Cessna Pilot Centers, the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, ELITE Simulation Solutions and CiES. Cessna Pilot Centers’ use of the latest iPad technology gives pilots convenient access to their online courses even when they are offline. The CPC Companion app, a free download from the Apple App Store, allows pilots to download lessons from their courses to their iPad. More than fifteen hundred aviation and aerospace professionals will gather Aug. 10 - 12 for the 40th Annual National Convention and Career Exposition at the Westin Lombard Yorktown Center in Lombard, Illinois. The convention, presented annually by the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, will feature notable speakers.

ELITE Simulation Solutions debuted their new single-seat, motion-based, piston helicopter trainer called the TH22SM at the Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) Expo in Savannah, Georgia. The TH22 series of Advanced Aviation Training Device is based on the Robinson 22/44 piston helicopter. The ELITE TH22SM features a 3 DOF (pitch, roll and heave) motion system. Over 1,500 aircraft in the field already fly with CiES digital fuel quantity systems. CiES' new technology fuel quantity systems are incorporated on all new Cirrus Aircraft SR20, SR22 and SR50 Jet, Quest Kodiak, Vulcanair P68, Gippsland GA10, CAIGA with several more to be added in the coming months. This STC illustrates that a conventional approach to FAA approval is still a viable method of incorporating changes when safety of flight and regulatory requirements are involved.

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When Los Angeles Times reporter Nigel Duara was fishing for a third-day lead on the tragic balloon crash in Texas Monday, the graph practically wrote itself:

“The pilot of a hot-air balloon that crashed into a Texas pasture had four convictions for drunken driving on his record, but was not required to submit to the type of Federal Aviation Administration medical check required of pilots of other types of aircraft.”

And there, in 44 words, oozes forth a greasy political football at a time when we least want it in GA, as the FAA contemplates how it will write rules for the just-submitted Third Class medical exemption. Theoretically, it should have nothing to do with the Third Class exemption because the two don’t relate in any way. But theory is just another word for wishful thinking and I wouldn’t be surprised if the FAA used this accident, not to mention the blistering they’ll soon get from Congress, to lard up the Third Class rules with restrictions and conditions that erode the basic intent of the legislation. I’ve never seen a government agency yet that would let a crisis go to waste in furtherance of its own bureaucratic kingdom.

But let’s say I’m clutching my pearls a little too tightly here and there won’t be any impact on the Third Class reform. There are still some delicate issues here. Without actually saying it, the Times lead invites the reader to make the connection that because the pilot had four DUI convictions, that might have been causal in the accident. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t, but as the story discusses below the fold, the larger issue is lack of FAA oversight.

Balloon pilots—even commercial balloon pilots—aren’t required to have any medical at all, although they need the certificates and flight review, just like the rest of us. Furthermore, balloon pilots don’t have to disclose DUI convictions on a certificate application, just drug convictions. (The pilot had one of those, too, according to news reports.)

Is this the proper level of regulation, it’s fair to ask? Yes, with one exception, it probably is, in my opinion. But it’s not likely to stay that way. By the way, under FAR 61.15, balloon pilots, like the rest of us, are required to report DUI convictions to the FAA within 60 days of occurrence. The FAA hasn’t confirmed whether the pilot, Alfred Nichols, did this and if he did do it, how the FAA responded. The obvious regulatory hole is that even us poor sots with Third Class medicals flying for fun will have to answer the DUI question on the medical form every two or three years. Lying about it is a felony and since the FAA routinely checks the National Driver Registry, getting caught is fairly likely. Or at least high risk.

There’s a moral question, too. Should a guy who’s had four DUI convictions, license revocation and a drug conviction be allowed to hold out to the public as a commercial pilot, as Nichols apparently was? My view of DUI is perhaps unreasonably harsh and unyielding because I have been touched by a drunk driver in my life to great personal pain. I have little sympathy. Alcoholism is an addictive disease and needs to be treated. It’s not a personal choice, it’s a condition. But driving drunk is a choice. Anyone can make a mistake and a single DUI, in my view, can be forgiven. But four? Forget it.

America is all about second acts, however, so if a pilot entered a rehab program and could prove he was sober to the FAA on a recurrent basis, then I think the agency could defend maintaining or reissuing a certificate. But for commercial balloon pilots, it may take more oversight than is now being exercised. And by the way, one news report said Nichols had righted himself and had been sober for four years. He had become a “poster boy” for recovering from substance abuse. But did the FAA know this? I assume we’ll find out, but for now, it can't confirm this because of privacy laws.

The FAA will soon be re-answering why it rejected the NTSB’s recommendation for more oversight of the commercial balloon industry made in 2014. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said at the time that the balloon industry was too small and that participants understood the risks and could self-regulate. As much as it pains me to say it, I agree and in a follow-up blog I’ll explain the logic.

And we all know this: If this balloon had been carrying four people instead of 16, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion. I’ve done a couple of balloon flights in small baskets and the mere thought of being with 16 people in a hot air balloon gives me the screaming willies. My colleague Mary Grady, who has more balloon experience, says the same thing. Maybe we're just a couple of Aunt Janes.  

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At AirVenture 2016, Yingling showed off the next generation of its Ascend refurbished Cessna 172, which features a glass panel from Garmin. As part of AVweb's continuing coverage, here's a video tour of the airplane.

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AirVenture 2016: One More Look

As AirVenture 2016 draws to a close in Oshkosh, AVweb's newsteam took one more tour of the field for some final photographs.

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