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Sixteen general aviation advocacy groups joined forces on Tuesday to express their concerns to leaders in the House and Senate about efforts to privatize air traffic control. The organizations cited a proposal promoted by some big airlines for the creation of a new governance and funding model for our nation's aviation system. “The general aviation community has very real and long-standing concerns, which include but are not limited to user fees,” the letter states. These concerns, the letter said, are based on experiences the advocates have had operating in privatized systems in other countries, where they’ve had a negative impact on general aviation.

“Under such a system, ATC would be overseen and managed by a board made up of commercial interests, with the nation’s airlines having the most powerful and numerous voices,” EAA President Jack Pelton said. “These interests would inevitably drown out whatever token representation and economic impact GA would have on such a board, creating an ATC system that would serve commercial interests with the greatest financial resources.”

Along with EAA, the letters to congressional leaders were signed by the Air Care Alliance, Aircraft Electronics Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Citation Jet Pilots, Commemorative Air Force, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Helicopter Association International, International Council of Air Shows, National Agricultural Aviation Association, National Association of State Aviation Officials, National Air Transportation Association, National Business Aviation Association, Recreational Aviation Foundation, U.S. Parachute Association, and Veterans Airlift.

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image: Doc's Friends

Fans of the restored B-29 “Doc,” which flew last July after 16 years of effort by scores of volunteers in Wichita, have long yearned for the chance to see the airplane fly at EAA AirVenture, hopefully in formation with the only other flying B-29, the CAF’s FiFi. Doc’s Friends aren’t saying yet if that historic meet-up will happen, but they do plan to fly at Oshkosh, July 24-30. "One thing you can be sure of, it will be a sight to see," spokesman Josh Wells told AVweb. To start the season, Doc's Friends will host a public flight and open house at Yingling Aviation, in Wichita, April 22, then fly at the Defenders of Liberty show at Barksdale Air Force Base, in Louisiana, May 6-7, and at Wings Over Whiteman, at Whiteman Air Force Base, in Missouri, June 10-11.

“Our vision throughout the restoration project has been to share this historic warbird with the world by operating Doc as a flying museum to honor those who built, maintained and flew B-29s to protect America’s freedom at home and abroad,” said Jim Murphy, Doc’s Friends restoration program manager. “Taking Doc on tour in 2017 is just the first step in our overall mission. We want to educate current and future generations on the contributions made by the Greatest Generation during wartime.” In addition to the four tour stops announced on Tuesday, Doc’s Friends is negotiating with four other airshows that would add stops in Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas later in the year. More information on those potential tour stops will be released in the coming weeks, the group said.

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Atigun Pass, via Google Maps

The FAA’s decision to issue a Part 135 certificate to a charter operator in Alaska, despite the pilot’s history of accidents, incidents, re-examinations and checkride failures, was a factor that contributed to a 2014 accident that seriously injured all four on board, according the NTSB’s final report, which was released this month. One passenger died from his injuries about five weeks after the crash. Despite concerns voiced by numerous FAA personnel during the certification process, the NTSB said, the FAA issued the certificate to the pilot in 2012. The pilot was flying a four-seat single-engine Ryan Navion A on a sightseeing tour on August 24, 2014, when the airplane hit rising terrain below the entrance to a high mountain pass. The pilot subsequently told several different versions of events to first responders and accident investigators, according to the NTSB.

At first the pilot said he had encountered a severe downdraft while approaching the pass, which local weather reports did not support. He then told investigators the right front-seat passenger had slumped onto the flight controls and become unresponsive after taking a motion-sickness drug, and the two rear-seat passengers had also taken the drug and were also unresponsive. However, none of the three passengers recalled this, and the front-seat passenger was found with his seatbelt and shoulder harness on by first responders. In a written statement about two months after his interview, the pilot said a propeller blade had separated in flight, as one propeller blade was missing and not recovered from the accident site. The passengers did not recall that this had occurred, and post-accident examination by the NTSB indicated that the missing propeller blade had separated during the impact sequence.

The NTSB determined the probable cause of the accident was the pilot's improper inflight planning and the improper decision to deliberately operate the airplane at low altitude in close proximity to obstructions and rising terrain, and the FAA’s decision to grant the certificate was a contributing factor. The FAA's Office of Chief Counsel said applicants for an air carrier certificate are not denied solely on the basis of a single violation or a previous accident. “The Agency has a legal obligation to utilize its authority for certification that is based on substantiated facts, not individual inspector opinions and innuendo,” the FAA said. “The FAA strives to ensure its actions of granting and denying certificates are not arbitrary and capricious." The NTSB just completed its analysis of the accident on March 8. The final report is now published online.

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Cessna has started assembly-line production of its Cessna Citation Longitude, in Wichita, Textron said on Monday in a news release. Also, the third jet in the flight-test program has completed its first flight. It will be used mainly to develop avionics and systems, as well as to collect flight-simulator data. The first aircraft flew in October, and the second in November, and two more will join the test program soon. So far the two aircraft have completed 125 flights, logging more than 250 hours. “We continue to build momentum in the program,” said Brad Thress, senior vice president of engineering. Four Longitudes are currently in production on the assembly line, according to the Wichita Eagle, and the company says it expects to certify the jet and start deliveries by the end of this year.

Shipments and billings for general aviation aircraft were down overall last year, but Cessna’s Citation business jets bucked that trend, according to the Eagle. Shipments of the jets increased 6.7 percent, from 166 in 2015 to 178 in 2016, with growing demand for the jets at the top of the line. The super-midsize Longitude seats up to 12 passengers and offers a stand-up cabin and cabin-accessible baggage compartment. It has Honeywell FADEC engines with auto-throttles and a Garmin 5000 panel with an optional head-up display. The $24 million jet is the largest in the Citation line.

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Using a biofuel mix to power jet engines reduces particle emissions in their exhaust by as much as 50 to 70 percent compared to conventional fuels, according to a recent NASA study. The new research results, which were published in the scientific journal Nature last week, were derived from a test series using a DC-8 flying at altitudes up to 40,000 feet while its four engines burned a 50-50 blend of aviation fuel and a renewable fuel produced from camelina plant oil. Three research aircraft took turns flying behind the DC-8 at distances ranging from 300 feet to more than 20 miles to measure emissions and study contrail formation as the different fuels were burned. "This was the first time we have quantified the amount of soot particles emitted by jet engines while burning a 50-50 blend of biofuel in flight," said NASA scientist Rich Moore, lead author of the Nature report.

The formation of contrails is key to aviation’s impact on climate change, according to NASA. Contrails are produced by hot aircraft engine exhaust mixing with the cold air at cruise altitudes, and are composed primarily of water in the form of ice crystals. Persistent contrails can create long-lasting, and sometimes extensive, clouds that would not normally form in the atmosphere, and are believed to be a factor in influencing Earth’s environment. In fact, contrails, and the cirrus clouds that evolve from them, have a larger impact on Earth’s atmosphere than all the aviation-related carbon-dioxide emissions since the first powered flight by the Wright brothers, according to NASA.

"Soot emissions are a major driver of contrail properties and their formation," said NASA scientist Bruce Anderson. The reductions in particle emissions observed during the flight tests, he said, “should directly translate into reduced ice crystal concentrations in contrails, which in turn should help minimize their impact on Earth’s environment." Researchers plan to continue these studies to understand and demonstrate the potential benefits of replacing current fuels in aircraft with biofuels. NASA also said it plans to demonstrate biofuels using their proposed supersonic X-plane.

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Last week, without much fanfare, Seattle Avionics announced that it’s marketing a new portable dual-band ADS-B In product from uAvionix. It’s called the pingBuddy2 and sells for the eye-opening price of $149. Recall that I reported on uAvionix in this piece I shot at the AEA show in New Orleans last week.

The pingBuddy2 is significant for a couple of reasons. One is the utterly disruptive price. Heretofore, the dual-band portables have sold for six to nearly 10 times as much. I’m thinking here of the Stratus 2S, the Sagetech Clarity and the Levil Technology iLevil 3 SW. To be sure, these aren’t exact comparisons because the more expensive products include onboard GPS and AHARS that put some backup gyro capability on a tablet. One version of the iLevil even has pitot-static input. By comparison, the pingBuddy2 offers just ADS-B In for TIS-B and FIS-B access. You’re on your own to provide it with GPS position data, either through the tablet’s built-in GPS or an external like Garmin’s GLO.

The bigger picture here is that uAvionix, looking forward, is leveraging volume in the drone market to effect some interesting economy of scale. But at this point, it’s somewhat aspirational volume because the requirement for ADS-B on drones hasn’t materialized yet. My guess is it will, but it will take a while. But uAvionix, with its full line of miniature avionics, is betting on that future.

The plus for GA owners and pilots is that even though uAvionix’s market is overwhelmingly in the UAS space, it sees some opportunity to disrupt ADS-B prices for manned aircraft. The company told me late last week that it will be announcing something ahead of Sun ‘n Fun, most likely for the experimental market. This could represent a significant price break. Could that eventually result in significantly cheaper ADS-B Out solution for owners still balking about equipping? Well, maybe. But “significant” is in the eye of the beholder and the trick part here is will the vastly larger demand for UAS ADS-B materialize before the 2020 mandate deadline? My guess is it won’t, because the FAA hasn’t even settled on regulations for the larger drones that will fly in the airspace with manned aircraft, much less figured out how and when to require ADS-B for Part 107 operations.

The argument for those little drones having ADS-B—and you equipping your own airplane—is compelling. The low-power systems uAvionix is producing don’t need to ping ground stations or pipe data into TIS-B or be engaged with ADS-R. 

They just need a simple ADS-B Out pulse so you can see them in your equipped airplane. If you’re really worried about the risk of colliding with a small drone, that’s the argument for equipping both aircraft with ADS-B.

As a point of public policy, the FAA should now look at the potential of volume-driven ADS-B equipage and how it could reach its goal of full participation. Despite all the positive spin you may have heard, the rate of equipage is still lagging. Whether that’s related to cost or cost and other factors is anyone’s guess. My guess is that it’s not all cost. But cheaper—vastly cheaper—ADS-B Out solutions can’t possibly hurt the effort and may very well ignite the torrent of demand the FAA so desperately wants.

To achieve this, the agency simply needs to relax—or eliminate—any kind of TSO requirement for certified ADS-B. It’s lunacy and utterly counterproductive that an RV-8 can run around in the same airspace that a Skyhawk can, but the latter requires a more expensive certified ADS-B receiver. This is at the core of the squabble NavWorx is having with the FAA, which insists that the company’s GPS solution for its low-cost ADS-B boxes doesn’t meet the TSO requirement, even though it meets the TSO performance specs. The FAA is just making it that much more difficult and expensive to equip over an inconsequential technical fine point.

Removing the TSO and certification hoops would make it much more likely that a company like uAvionix could bring cheaper ADS-B to the market. Could we see an under $1000 solution suitable for certified airplanes? uAvionix thinks so, especially if the drone demand it sees over the horizon materializes. But it may not be in time to meet the 2020 witching hour. Still, better late than never.

And while we’re at it, why not just junk the entire idea of TSOs? It’s an idea whose time may be done.

The Royal Canadian Air Force turned one of their C-17s into a flying museum for a trip back in time. The transport took seven replica biplanes to France where they will take part in ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

In six weeks BasicMed will take effect and AOPA President Mark Baker updated us on what he's hearing from members and how he hopes neighboring countries will see the benefits of recognizing it.

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Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

The winner is an airplane and water again but not technically a floatplane. Edgar Tello took this beauty of a Seabee testing the waters on a pond at Sugar Valley Airport in North Carolina. Nice work, Edgar.

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