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Members of Congress are back in their home districts this month, leaving Washington quiet and empty, but that doesn’t mean the efforts of general aviation lobbyists who oppose ATC privatization are on hold. “The GA community can’t let its guard down,” said Mark Baker, president of AOPA, in a statement issued last week by several GA advocacy groups. “This is a battle that has just begun.” Baker and other GA leaders said the August recess provides an opportunity for pilots to contact their representatives while they’re at home and let them know how they feel about efforts to privatize the air traffic control system. “Our industry is under attack, and the proposal the airlines are pushing would destroy our industry,” said NBAA President Ed Bolen.

The proposed private corporation that would run ATC would be dominated by the airlines, the advocates say, and GA needs would be secondary. As a result, the corporation could make ATC less effective for GA users, by restricting GA pilots’ access to airports, closing towers or reducing their hours of operation, and creating procedures that favor commercial airline traffic. GA leaders urged aviators to visit www.atcnotforsale.com to find resources about the privatization issue, plus tools for contacting members of Congress via email, social media and phone. The site also features news updates and other resources for advocates. The groups that are working together to oppose privatization are AOPA, EAA, GAMA, Helicopter Association International, National Air Transportation Association and NBAA.

Higher, farther and faster

AOPA will back off on using Canada as a flawed example of privatized air traffic control after its Canadian counterpart protested AOPA's "lack of understanding of the situation in Canada." Bernard Gervais, president of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association, particularly chafed at a column written by AOPA President Mark Baker in the September edition of AOPA Pilot in which Baker wrote: “General Aviation in Canada no longer thrives, and it’s unfortunate to see pilots there don’t have the same options we enjoy here in the United States.” Gervais said in an email to Baker that GA is alive and well in Canada and his 17,000 members “are largely satisfied with the service we receive from Nav Canada and all of them take exception with the idea that Canadian GA is dead.” Gervais got an immediate response from AOPA Pilot Editor-in-Chief Tom Haines. He said the column by Baker was written before COPA had made its position clear during meetings at AirVenture and AOPA “will stop painting with such a broad brush when referring to the impact of privatization on other nations.”

Nav Canada, a not-for-profit corporation created 20 years ago to take over air traffic services in Canada, is often cited by privatization supporters in the U.S. as an example of how the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS) could be managed. The proposal before Congress bears similarity to Nav Canada’s structure. GA groups in the U.S. have formed a united front against the notion of privatization for a variety of reasons, chief among them the worry that airlines will end up with control of the system through dominance on the proposed corporation’s board of directors. Gervais told Baker he has no quarrel with his and other groups’ opposition to privatization in the U.S. but the Canadian experience and the system that administers it is different. “We are not against your opposition to privatization, we are asking that you stop using Canada as your example,” Gervais said. COPA has had some issues with Nav Canada's restriction of VFR access to some of Canada's major airports in recent months. Nav Canada has blamed the periodic closure of some terminal airspace to VFR traffic on staffing shortages. Gervais, a member of Nav Canada's Advisory Committee, said the corporation is responsive to these sorts of issues. "Where improvements can be done, the board of Nav Canada actually take them on," he said.

BREAKTHROUGH! - Cubcrafters

Piston airplane sales are up for the second quarter of 2017, compared to the previous year, ending a three-year slide, according to General Aviation Manufacturers Association data. In the first half of the year, airframers delivered 468 piston airplanes—265 in the second quarter alone—up 5.6% from the first half of 2016 during which 443 piston airplanes were delivered to customers. Cirrus continues to dominate the piston market, selling nearly a third of all piston airplanes in the first half of 2017, but the growth came from Cessna. In the first half of 2016, Cessna sold only 65 airplanes. That number is up to 90 this year, mostly from the 51 Cessna 172s the Kansas-based company delivered to their owners. Despite certification of the new Mooney M20U Ovation Ultra and M20V Acclaim Ultra earlier this year, the legendary Texas company was unable to ship a single airplane in Q2—down from 2 airplanes in Q1.

"Results for the second quarter of this year are very much like the first – mixed, with some bright spots,” said GAMA President and CEO Pete Bunce. “We hope rule rewrites in the U.S. and Europe, reorganization of the FAA certification directorate, and ongoing certification and regulatory reform efforts in Congress, including fuller utilization of the delegation authorization, will spur higher numbers in future quarters this year and the next.” Turbine aircraft sales were essentially flat by airframe count (526 to 527), but led the drop in dollar value of all aircraft sold ($9.0B down from $9.4B). Sales by Bombardier alone dropped from $2.8B to $2.4B—mostly on weaker sales of the Global 5000/6000 series business jets.

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British authorities are proposing to regulate the sale of laser pointers to curb attacks on aircraft. The U.K. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial has issued a “call for evidence” into possibly licensing the sale of small lasers. “Used irresponsibly or maliciously, these products can and do wreak havoc and harm others, with potentially catastrophic consequences,” said Business Minister Margot James. “That’s why we want to hear from business groups, retailers and consumers about the best way to protect the public from this kind of dangerous behaviour and improve safety.”

The U.K. recorded 1,258 incidents of lasers being pointed at aircraft and despite the obvious danger the highest penalty is a $3,200 fine. The new regulations would include jail sentences and stiffer fines for deliberately pointing lasers at aircraft. The issue is also a public health concern in that 150 people, mostly children, have suffered eye damage from laser exposure in the last three years. Public Health England spokesman John O’Hagan said he would favor steps to curb injuries from “cheap novelty products bought innocently on holiday [which] can put consumers, and particularly children, at risk of eye injuries.”

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Sean Tucker, who announced his retirement from solo air show demonstrations earlier this year, let slip a few additional details about his plans for a formation aerobatic team during an interview with AOPA during AirVenture 2017. The acclaimed aerobatic star said he’ll start with a five-ship aerobatic team that he hopes to grow to seven airplanes. Tucker didn’t say what type of aircraft the team would use, but said he was “looking for a Snowbird-like experience.” The Snowbirds are the Royal Canadian Air Force jet demonstration team. The Snowbirds fly nine-ship aerobatic routines in the CT-114 Tutor—a 1960s-era jet trainer. If Tucker’s team does decide to fly a jet, the most likely candidate is the Aero Vodochy L-39 Albatross, which is already used by the Breitling and Patriots private jet demonstration teams.

Extending on the “in your face” style that characterized his solo routines, Tucker wants to keep the formation near show center. “I want it to be slow enough to keep it in their face but powerful enough to have a magnificent formation,” Tucker told AOPA. Aerobatic performances by the Air Force Thunderbirds in the F-16 and by the Navy Blue Angels in the F/A-18 require such high speeds that a significant portion of the show is consumed by getting aircraft reoriented to the crowd after each pass, a pause in the action that Tucker wants to avoid.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this article erronously referred to Tucker's retirement from competitve aerobatics. Tucker is principally known for his solo aerobatic routines at air shows and not for participation in competitive aerobatics.

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Think how boring life would be without the starry-eyed dreamers, the unshakeable optimists and the grand visionaries who are utterly incapable of allowing even the slightest harsh reality to tarnish that bright future just over the hill.

That would pretty much describe the people ushering in the next big thing in aviation: the on-demand urban air taxi. Specifically, Uber’s ambitious plan to launch Uber Elevate. See our news story on the rollout of this idea at a Dallas conference last April. 

What Uber Elevate has in mind is a sizeable fleet of pure-electric VTOL aircraft—not necessarily multi-rotors, by the way—shuttling passengers around urban areas through a node-based system with launch facilities they call Vertiports. (New word for you.) They expect to have demonstration vehicles flying by 2020 and actual operation at low-scale by 2023. You can hear more details on this in a podcast I recorded with Uber Elevate’s Nikhil Goel and Wyatt Smith. You can then decide if you think any of this is remotely possible or likely. As they explain, the vehicles will eventually be autonomous. 

Personally, I place myself in the it’s-possible-but-highly-unlikely camp. Just to be clear, Uber’s concept isn’t rooted in the totally daft idea of flying cars which, despite my personal crusade to render the idea ridiculous beyond all rational thought, continues to gain yet more coverage in the daily press. One reason for that is that tech billionaires are getting interested in it and those guys didn’t get those billions by embracing stupid ideas, right? Right?

What Uber has in mind is dedicated aircraft propelled by distributed electric power—basically motors attached wherever thrust is deemed to be needed. This offers genuine technical advantages, not the least of which is that it can be employed in tilt-rotor designs for fixed wing aircraft that would be more efficient than helicopters. So far, so good. On paper, it’s at least plausible, if not entirely realistic.

Uber shrewdly organized the high-profile conference in Dallas last spring and recruited some heavy hitters to at least endorse it, thus allowing the on-the-fence-doubters to think, hey, this thing is real. It’s here or soon will be. Whether it achieved that goal or not, it did get a lot of press so the promotional mission was at least accomplished. They name checked a few companies: Embraer, Bell, Mooney, Aurora, Pipistrel.

Uber described these as “partners” but it’s more accurate to think of them as interested parties in the way that a chicken is involved with a bacon and egg breakfast. The chicken is involved, the pig is committed. (Pipistrel has its own demonstrated electric aircraft program, but uptake is proving slow.) Worth noting is that Airbus said it would, by 2020, certify a four-place hybrid electric aircraft for the U.S. market. It has since withdrawn that plan, although it has an aspirational electric aircraft program on simmer.

But for Uber, no sale for this customer. I could list a lot of niggly reasons for skepticism, but two stand out: a delusional view of certification and a business plan, if there is one, that’s too dependent on scales not likely to be achieved. In other words, instead of a stand-up double, Uber is swinging for the fences.

As soon as I heard Uber Elevate’s Nikhil Goel say the Part 23 revision is a path paved with gold bricks making certification of electric airplanes a lead-pipe cinch, I knew I was listening to someone whose skin hasn’t been scabbed over by actually completing a cert project. No, no, I occasionally hear, this time the FAA is really sincere about efficient certification. I’m not buying it. Show me an example or two and I’ll relent. We are, after all, not talking about just another new airplane, but an entire class of new commercial aircraft with no certification history, no operational experience and no risk model. Quick and easy to certify? I’m gonna go with no. Certifiable eventually, for sure. Just not quickly.

Second, scale. Uber Elevate says its pricing models are based on a level of aircraft manufacturing we haven’t seen since World War II. What might that be? As late as 1978, the general aviation industry was producing nearly 18,000 airframes a year. So Uber is talking about volume even greater than that.

Business plans—especially aviation business plans—that do-or-die on high volume have a high likelihood of failure because there’s a high likelihood that those millions of customers you were sure would heave baskets of cash at you won’t share your vision. This is exactly what happened to the very light jet concept. We used to throw around VLJ like periods and commas, but now it’s as forgotten as SST, AAS and a million other acronyms. (Can we only hope the ADS-B will soon share the same fate?)

Twenty years ago, then NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin told an Oshkosh audience that a revolution in design, materials and manufacturing efficiency would result in a new golden (sorry) age of GA, with 20,000 airframes a year spilling out of the factories, dominated by the now-banished VLJ. The manufacturing revolution happened, the airplanes didn’t. It’s too simplistic to say that demand never materialized because the prices weren’t as low as promised, but it’s denial to say that wasn’t a big reason.

People coming new into aviation bring fresh eyes, new ideas and innovation. All good. We need a dose of new thinking to offset the hidebounded cynicism of people like me. What they lack is knowledge of the basic laws: gravity, weight, schedules, the grinding pace of certification and an understanding of the Aviation Dollar. The Aviation Dollar, depending on the exchange rate, is equivalent to between five and 100 regular dollars. Even aviation-experienced innovators sometimes lose sight of this.

That’s probably a good thing, though. If they didn’t, they’d hole up in their windowless offices writing the next big social media app and thank the baby Jesus, we sure need that.   

Fly SAM STC Approved

AVweb's Geoff Rapoport spoke with founder Xylon Saltzman about One-G Simulation's first foray into virtual reality with their simulator for the Robinson R44.

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Uber showed up at AirVenture this year, but it wasn't toting hardware. Instead, the company was touting its new Uber Elevate proposal that will do for on-demand air taxi what its networking service has done for ride sharing and on-demand transportation. In this podcast, Wyatt Smith and Nikhil Goel explain the details.

Electronics International 'Aviation Alert! Short video on how EI saved this pilot's life
Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

AirVenture was such a spectacle this year that the flood of really good photos from the event have overwhelmed us a bit. But Randy Dufault's image of the B-1 sums up the theme of the air show pretty perfectly. Very nice, Randy.

In anything we do aloft, Risk pokes its ugly head beneath the wing flap. But when confronted with the facts, Risk melts into a sniveling bully unable to confront your awesome ability to ace this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.

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