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A Washington court has quashed the FAA’s drone registration program. The court ruled Friday that the registration rule violates the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, passed by Congress in 2012, that specifically bars the FAA from creating “any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft.” Since December of 2015, the FAA has required drone owners to register drones weighing between .55 pounds and 55 pounds by filling out an online form and paying $5. 

The FAA is considering its next move. It could appeal the ruling but that could be a lengthy and expensive process since it was a panel of three judges that quashed the rule. A more direct route would be to have Congress include a registration requirement in the FAA reauthorization bill that must be passed by September. The registration program was enacted to provide some measure of control and legal leverage over an explosion of consumer drones on the market. So far 820,000 drones have been registered. The ruling came from a challenge by model aircraft buff and insurance lawyer John A. Taylor. The judges agreed that the program “directly violates [a] clear statutory prohibition."

The Bahamas is the first neighboring country to the U.S. to accept BasicMed as a medical qualification for U.S. pilots flying in its airspace. BasicMed went into effect on May 1 and allows pilots to fly up to five passengers on day or night VFR or IFR pleasure flights (not for compensation or hire) in aircraft weighing up to 6,000 pounds without a Third Class medical. But most other countries adhere to International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) guidelines that require standardized medical examinations by designated doctors every two to five years, depending on the pilot’s age. Earlier this year AOPA asked Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas to accept BasicMed as a standard for visiting U.S. pilots and the Bahamas has accepted it in its entirety. Canada and Mexico have not approved BasicMed, but Canada is considering a variation of the relaxed medical regime that matches its own regulations.

Canada’s recreational pilot license does not require a formal Transport Canada medical but it does require family doctors to sign a declaration that the pilot has never been treated for any of the disqualifying conditions that civil aviation medical examiners look for. The Canadian Owners and Pilots Association has recommended Transport Canada allow BasicMed pilots to fly in Canada under the same conditions as Canadian recreational license holders. However, the Canadian license is a lot more restrictive than BasicMed. In Canada, BasicMed pilots would be limited to flying with only one passenger in an aircraft capable of holding four people or less and fly only day VFR. AOPA says it’s still working with Canada and Mexico on BasicMed acceptance.

The European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE) opens May 22 in Geneva and as usual, companies are making announcements in advance of the formal opening. Nextant has announced that it’s dipping a toe in the large cabin market with an avionics upgrade for Challenger 604 bizjets. Nextant started with refurbs of Hawker bizjets and followed with King Airs. The Challenger upgrades include a Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion panel that will bring the old airframes into NextGen compliance. The cabin will also be refreshed and connectivity systems installed. 

Although it hasn’t yet built an aircraft, Aerion continues to grab headlines with updates on its supersonic business jet project. The company says it has chosen GE to “study” the sort of engines it will need for the three-engine Mach 1.5 aircraft. At the other end of the jet spectrum, Cirrus says it’s ready to ramp up production of the SF50 Vision with a plan to build 25 to 50 of the single-engine personal aircraft this year. The company received FAA production approval in early May.

So far there is little big news to report and a general sense the European market is still stalled. Several analysts quoted in the show newspapers are cautiously predicting some recovery in Europe but they’re also admitting how wrong they’ve been before with similar observations. There’s been an uptick in business aviation activity in Europe and the industry crossing its fingers that will translate to increased sales.

Work has begun on major improvements at the New England Air Museum, adjacent to Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. The $1.9 million project aims to enhance the visitor experience. The project will create lofty mezzanines in two of the massive aircraft hangars, which will provide vistas over the museum's aircraft collections. The mezzanines, equipped with grand staircases and elevators, will create space for additional exhibits, public programs and events. The project will also install energy-efficient heat and air-conditioning systems, as well as new LED lighting. Aircraft will be relocated to take advantage of the new perspectives.

The project also will create new exhibits and graphics in the museum's galleries and add new exterior signage and branding. The museum will remain open throughout the construction, with completion slated for mid-August. The work is funded by a state bond, grants from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, Pratt & Whitney and museum resources. The collection includes a B-29 Superfortress; a Silas Brooks balloon basket built in 1870, which is believed to be the oldest surviving aircraft in the United States; the 1912 Bunce-Curtiss Pusher, the oldest surviving Connecticut-built airplane; the Sikorsky S-39, the oldest surviving Sikorsky aircraft; and a Kaman K-225 helicopter, the oldest surviving Kaman-built aircraft.

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The Flying Aviation Expo scheduled for October in Palm Springs has been canceled but organizers are holding out hope it may be back in the future. Jeff and Vivienne Herold, who own Scheyden Eyewear, took over the show in its third year in 2016 and moved it from the Palm Springs Convention Center to the airport. Although the show got good reviews for organization and content, it was sparsely attended. “The needed participation and sponsorship investments are not quite where they have to be to sustain the show at this time,” the Herolds said in a statement quoted by Flying Magazine, the title sponsor of the event. “The 2016 show that was moved to the Palm Springs International Airport was a beautifully run event that still has tremendous potential for the future of aviation events in the Western region.”

The Herolds are talking with AOPA officials about holding the trade show in conjunction with some of the regional fly-ins it holds each year. AOPA canceled its annual Expo in 2013 in favor of the regional events and the Flying event was seen as filling that void. Flying quoted Jeff Herold as saying that cooperating with AOPA may lead to the Expo returning as a standalone event in Palm Springs.

Precise Flight 'Enjoy every breath Premium boom cannulas

Heard recently one morning on JFK tower frequency.

JetBlue:  Tower, is our speed compatible with the aircraft ahead of us?

 Tower:  As long as you don't go to warp factor 6, you should be fine.


Marty Twersky 

 

 

AVweb’s General Aviation Accident Bulletin is taken from the pages of our sister publication, Aviation Safety magazine and is published twice a month. All the reports listed here are preliminary and include only initial factual findings about crashes. You can learn more about the final probable cause in the NTSB’s web site at www.ntsb.gov. Final reports appear about a year after the accident, although some take longer. Find out more about Aviation Safety at www.aviationsafetymagazine.com.

February 16, 2017, Winder, Ga.

Beechcraft C23 Sundowner

At about 1400 Eastern time, the airplane was substantially damaged when it impacted trees and terrain. The flight instructor and student pilot were fatally injured. Visual conditions prevailed.

No one witnessed the takeoff. Security-camera video showed the flight instructor and student pilot walked out to the airplane at about 1317. At approximately 1400, a motorist passing the northwest corner of the airplane’s base airport saw it pass from left to right in front of her, flying low and fast. It then began to nose down, then leveled out, banked right. The witness then lost sight of the airplane.

The accident site was to the southwest of Runway 31; the wreckage path was oriented on an approximate magnetic heading of 146 degrees. Control continuity was established to and from impact-related breaks in the system. There was no evidence of any in-flight structural failure. The propeller displayed evidence of S-bending and chordwise scratching. Fuel was present in the fuel line and in the carburetor float bowl. At 1345, local weather included wind from 320 degrees at eight knots, gusting to 14.

February 16, 2017, Climax, Ga.

Beechcraft A45 (T-34 Mentor)

The airplane collided with trees and terrain at about 1852 Eastern time, while on final approach. The airplane was substantially damaged; the private pilot was fatally injured. Night visual conditions prevailed for the flight, which was the pilot’s first flight in the airplane since it had been delivered to the private runway after an annual inspection.

The airplane came to rest on the approach end of Runway 18. Oak and pine trees were located at the northern boundary of the runway. Examination revealed the airplane collided with two oak trees on a southerly heading before contacting the ground. The airplane’s tail cone remained in one of the trees, and numerous tree limbs had been broken. All structures and components were accounted for at the accident site. Flight control continuity was confirmed. The right wing fuel bladder was ruptured from impact forces and contained no quantifiable fuel. The left wing tank contained about 11 gallons of fuel. The cockpit fuel selector handle was found in the right tank position. The engine’s two-blade propeller was minimally damaged, and there was no discernible bending or twisting of the blades. Sunset occurred at 1827 and the end of civil twilight occurred at 1851.

February 18, 2017, Centennial, Colo.

Piper PA-28R-200 Arrow II

The airplane sustained substantial damage at about 1529 Mountain time when it impacted terrain shortly after takeoff. The airline transport pilot received minor injuries; the private pilot suffered serious injuries. Visual conditions prevailed.

After some difficulty starting the engine, the private pilot in the left seat stated that the airplane had difficulty obtaining lift during the takeoff roll on Runway 17L. After liftoff, at about 75 knots, engine rpm remained high and power seemed sufficient, but the airplane was not gaining altitude. Toward the end of the runway, the ATP in the right seat took over the controls and flew the aircraft past the departure end of the 10,000-foot runway, crossed over a highway, banked left and touched down in a grassy area.

According to the ATP, the airplane lifted off at about 65 knots within about a 1000-foot ground roll and accelerated to about 75-80 knots, but was climbing slowly. Upon reaching about 150 feet agl, the ATP “felt like something was pushing the airplane down.” He stated that the engine seemed to have full rpm, and both the throttle and mixture were full forward. He stated that he recalled the airspeed being at 65 knots and the stall warning horn had activated when the airplane contacted the ground.

Weather at the time of the accident included wind from 170 degrees at 15 knots, gusting to 23. After the accident, the private pilot stated that a business jet took off from Runway 17L approximately two minutes before their takeoff.

February 19, 2017, Dawsonville, Ga.

Ercoupe 415-C

At about 1215 Eastern time, the airplane was substantially damaged during a precautionary landing to a road. The solo private pilot was not injured. Visual conditions prevailed.

The pilot had recently purchased the airplane and was flying it back to his home airport. Prior to the flight, he added oil to the engine. About 30 minutes after takeoff, he noticed dropping oil pressure. He reduced engine power and turned toward a nearby airport. Oil pressure dropped to zero, however, and he performed a precautionary landing on a road. During the landing, the airplane skidded across the road until it impacted a tree and came to rest in a ditch. Examination revealed a hole in the oil sump, and oil was coming from the crankcase breather tube. Approximately three quarts of oil remained in the engine.

February 19, 2017, Bayonne, N.J.

Piper PA-28R-200 Arrow II

The airplane sustained substantial damage at about 1000 Eastern time during a forced landing to a road. The solo private pilot was seriously injured. Visual conditions prevailed.

The pilot reported he was maneuvering around the Statue of Liberty when the engine started to lose power and he was unable to maintain altitude. The pilot declared an emergency, flew toward land, and made a forced landing to a road. The airplane struck power lines and vehicles before coming to rest on a sidewalk in a congested city neighborhood. There was no post-impact fire or injuries to anyone on the ground.

February 21, 2017 in Gainesville, Texas

American Aviation AA-1A

At about 0050 Central time, the airplane made a forced landing short of a runway. The private pilot sustained minor injuries; the passenger suffered serious injuries. The airplane was substantially damaged. Night visual conditions prevailed.

The non-pilot passenger had recently purchased the airplane and asked the pilot to fly with him on a familiarization flight. They departed the airplane’s base and executed about 15 touch-and-go landings at a nearby airport before heading to a third airport for fuel. They approached the third airport from the north, intending to land on Runway 18. During the approach, the pilot observed a coyote on the runway and executed a go-around. During the go-around, the engine lost power, and he made a 180-degree turn back toward the runway. The airplane was not able to make the runway so the pilot conducted a forced landing to a field.

The airplane came to rest upright in a field about 150 yards south of the runway, slightly right of the extended centerline. The right wing had separated from the fuselage; no fuel was observed in its wing-spar fuel tank. When the left wing was removed for transport, there was less than one cup of fuel in its fuel tank.

February 22, 2017, East Haven, Conn.

Piper PA-38-112 Tomahawk

The airplane was substantially damaged at about 0957 Eastern time when it impacted terrain during initial climb after a touch-and-go landing. The flight instructor was seriously injured; the student pilot was fatally injured. Visual conditions prevailed.

After three uneventful touch-and-go landings, one of the pilots declared an emergency during initial climb by stating “Mayday” on the ATC frequency but did not specify the nature of the emergency. The airplane then spun to the left, descended and impacted terrain about 1000 feet southeast of the departure end of Runway 20. Another flight instructor stated he heard the emergency transmission and could hear the airplane’s stall warning horn in the background.

The wreckage came to rest upright in a marsh; no debris path was observed. While both wing fuel tanks were breached during impact, several gallons of fuel remained in each wing. The empennage was curled up and to the left. Flight control continuity was confirmed from all flight control surfaces to the cockpit area. The throttle and mixture levers were in the forward position and the magnetos were selected to both. The fuel selector was found positioned to the right main fuel tank. The propeller blades did not exhibit rotational damage.

The engine had accumulated 2508 hours since major overhaul. The flight instructor had accumulated a total flight experience of approximately 236 hours, of which 12 were in the same make and model as the accident airplane.

February 23, 2017, Stevensville, Mon.

Beechcraft A36TC Turbo Bonanza

At about 1300 Mountain time, the airplane was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain shortly after takeoff. The private pilot and his passenger received minor injuries. Visual conditions prevailed.

According to the pilot, the airplane lifted off from Runway 12 at 80 knots but “couldn’t climb or accelerate.” He ensured the engine controls were positioned for full takeoff power, but the airplane “would not lift” any further. A pilot-rated witness reported the airplane climbed to about 50 feet agl, then began a “steep right descending turn.” The witness stated Runway 12 has a “substantial” uphill slope. He also reported there was a “quartering tailwind” from the “northwest” of about 15 knots that at the time the Bonanza was attempting its takeoff. Weather observed from 1255 to 1301, included wind from 340 and 350 degrees, at between nine and 12 knots, with numerous gusts to 16 knots.

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.

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All I can say is, I want my $28 back. That’s what the FAA dinged me when I registered my drone, probably because I checked the commercial-use box. Or for some other reason I wasn’t paying attention to. Now, as you’ve read, a court has declared the FAA registration program null and void because it violates the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

Here’s the specific language and it’s unambiguous. “SEC. 336. SPECIAL RULE FOR MODEL AIRCRAFT.  (a) IN GENERAL.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law relating to the incorporation of unmanned aircraft systems into Federal Aviation Administration plans and policies, including this subtitle, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft, if—(1) the aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use.”

This could not be any plainer. John A. Taylor’s legal challenge of the regulation was thus a slow pitch that an appeals court for the D.C. circuit smashed out of the park, leaving months of work by the agency as just so much bureaucratic detritus. How could the FAA lawyers have missed this? My guess is they didn’t miss it, but thought their broad authority to regulate everything that flies would suffice to defeat a challenge. Or, they knew the regulation was on an indefensible legal foundation and would be challenged. And this will force Congress to rewrite the law, perhaps to give the FAA broader statutory authority with regard to drones.

This is not necessarily a good thing because whenever you give Congress the opportunity to write new statutory basis for regulation, you never know what you’re going to get and it’s even odds you’ll get something worse. So that’s where we might be heading.

Ignoring the underlying statutory basis for registration for a moment, there are two salient questions here: Does the proliferation of drones represent a realistic threat to public safety and would regulating these aircraft reduce that risk? This begets a third question: Is there a better way to deal with drones?

In my opinion, drone proliferation does represent a risk to the public and, as a subset, a threat to pilots and passengers of manned aircraft. I think the risk is small and totally overblown by many pilots, but it’s inarguable that the risk is greater than zero. To the question of whether drone registration can enhance safety by forcing a would-be drone pilot with no aviation experience to slog through a form citing chapter and verse on basic regulation, I circle back to the third question. What’s the better way of doing this? Does it even have to be done at all?

As is my wont, I’d address this by first trying to understand the risk. Is there any data to look at? Any accident pattern? Any serious statistical study of the collision risk for aircraft or for people on the ground? No, there isn’t. It’s all anecdotal and thus there’s a tendency to measure the risk in the worst possible way: emotionally. The risk is twofold. What’s the probability of a collision and what are the consequences if one occurs?

At AUVSI’s Xponential two weeks ago, there were several technical sessions on counter-drone technology. This is such a hot topic that 65 companies are plying the counter-drone market. Not many products are available or being sold, but the interest is there. In one panel, Lt. Brook Rollins, who heads the drone division for the Arlington, Texas, police department, was asked about specific incidents involving drones. Finally, I thought, someone will give us direct reports on the menace this new technology represents.

Nope. Rollins said all the reports were anecdotal sightings and complaints, with no direct specifics. The same can be said of the hundreds of drone “sightings” the FAA says it’s getting from pilots. There were 1274 of these for an eight-month period in 2016 or about five a day. Few—maybe none—are buttressed by anything remotely resembling actual verifiable data. But the sheer number of sightings and the 820,000 drones the FAA has already registered play better in press reports to suggest an out-of-control risk to civilization that Congress is inevitably urged to do something about. It flirts with the definition of mass hysteria.

And it will eventually get more complicated and difficult when Amazon and others start to fly delivery drones at low altitude and local communities attempt their own regulation to assuage noise and privacy complaints. There’s little established law to address any of this. It’s likely to be written, if you will, on the fly. With the heavy hand of regulation, the FAA is attempting to normalize what is in no way normal. Or if it is normal, it’s normal that any new technology as fundamentally disruptive as small drones are will ignite chaos and we are living through a storm of it with no easy solutions in sight.

About a year ago, just after the FAA put the registration requirement in place, the Heritage Foundation empaneled a group of experts to talk about drone registration from the perspective of ineffective over-regulation. John Taylor, who won the suit against the FAA, was on the panel. You can see the entire discussion here. If any consensus emerged it was that the risk is overstated and registration is too burdensome. I agree with the former, but doubt the latter. A $5 fee and 10 minutes online isn’t a burden worth complaining about. ($28 is another matter.) I take the point that the enforcement penalties may be a little harsh for the felonious "crime" of flying an unregistered drone. 

But if registration is not effective in achieving anything, it’s then just a waste of time. Initially, I thought registration was an acceptable means of forcing drone operators to read through requirements and restrictions—which the registration process does—and even though it was done mainly for optics, it was an acceptable tradeoff. It at least promised to make otherwise ignorant buyers somewhat cognizant of the rules and the risks, the ins and outs of airspace and the concerns of others.

But now I think there’s a better way. At the point of sale—that is, in the box—include an easy-to-read document that explains the rules and offers an online training course. Yeah, not that many people will read it or go online, but many are blowing off registration, too. And we are essentially criminalizing people for failure to comply.

As I’ve said before, the rest of it falls into the nature of risk from new technologies measured against the benefits. It’s no different than cars replacing horses or trucks replacing carriages. We learned to accept that car crashes were an unavoidable collateral downside of cars and the same will have to happen with drones, mitigated by what actually happens in the real world. In other words, adjust the regulations to suit the evolving reality of the threat. Thus far, the drone fatality record remains unblemished. And a lot more people were and are killed by cars than will ever be killed by drones, including the kind that shoot things.

If you had around $4.8 million to spend on a new light jet, you might shop the Cessna Citation M2, the Embraer Phenom 100 and the HA-420 HondaJet. After earning Part 23 FAA certification in December 2015, Honda Aircraft Company has already delivered over 40 HondaJets and has spooled up production for a lot more deliveries. In this video, Honda Aircraft Company's manager of flight operation and demonstration discusses the aircraft's design, systems and performance. A flight trial report follows in the July 2017 issue of Aviation Consumer magazine.

 

Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

Tricia Cronin came along for Love is in the Air Tour over the Grand Canyon and we love the result. Thanks to everyone who entered this week. Here's a hint from the judges. We like pictures of airplanes, not pictures from airplanes (unless they have airplanes in them.)

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