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A Republican proposal to fast-track a six-month FAA reauthorization was sidelined by Democratic objections to non-aviation programs attached to the bill. The Republican-authored measure would have increased privatization of federal flood insurance programs and offered tax credits to certain people impacted by recent hurricanes. The fast-track process requires the support of two-thirds of House members. It failed 245 to 171. Democrats sought a clean reauthorization bill. Steny Hoyer, the Democratic Whip, wrote in a letter to his fellow house members: “Democrats support reauthorization of the FAA, which is long overdue as a result of Republicans' failure to craft a bill that can obtain bipartisan majority support. Unfortunately, now that we are just days away from the expiration of the current authorization, the Majority, without consultation or cooperation with Democrats, has added a partisan package of extraneous provisions.” The FAA’s current authorization expires Sept. 30.

Some Republicans who are opposed to ATC privatization also declined to support the bill, reports Politico. “These lawmakers think the Transportation chairman should accept that the Senate has no interest in such an overhaul and don’t want the agency to operate in fits and starts under stopgap measures,” say reporters from the beltway website. Republican House leadership is expected to bring the measure to a vote again under a different rule requiring only majority support. If it passes, it will be sent to the Senate, where Republicans have been more hostile to ATC privatization proposals than their House colleagues.

Boeing is offering $2 million in prize money to encourage innovators to create a “safe and easy-to-use personal flying device,” the company announced on Tuesday. The two-year competition, called “GoFly,” is open to teams from around the world. Boeing hopes the project will leverage recent advances in propulsion, energy, lightweight materials, and control and stability systems “to make the dream of personal flight a reality.” The flying device should be easy to use by anyone, anywhere, Boeing said. It must be safe, ultra-compact, quiet, urban-compatible, capable of carrying a person 20 miles without refueling or recharging and must have vertical, or near-vertical, takeoff and landing capability.

GoFly will provide teams with access to experienced mentors and experts in design, engineering, finance, law and marketing who will conduct monthly webinars, but the ultimate design and functionality of the device will be up to the imagination of the competitors. The competition will culminate in a final fly-off in fall 2019 when all the teams will debut their personal flying devices. “There is perhaps no dream more universal than the dream of human flight,” said Gwen Lighter, CEO of The GoFly Prize. “GoFly is going to make that dream a reality. GoFly is a shift towards embracing innovative solutions to expand the desire to explore the unknown and push ourselves to new heights. Today we look to the sky and say ‘look at that plane fly,’ but two years from now we’ll look up and say ‘look at that person fly.’”

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A two-part Boston Globe Spotlight investigation into the tracking of aircraft registrants and pilots with criminal ties found an overwhelming lack of scrutiny on the part of the Federal Aviation Administration. The investigation puts the FAA in the crosshairs for being unable to assist law enforcement with connecting U.S.-registered aircraft to the persons who actually own them—potentially an important piece of evidence in terrorism, drug trafficking and international corruption investigations. “A Los Angeles DEA agent who investigates narcotics-related aircraft said the dummy ownership makes it harder for him to draw a direct connection between drug dealers and their product,” according to the Globe report. Globe reporters found that of the 314,529 aircraft registered with the FAA, 54,232 are registered using methods potentially calculated to make it harder to trace aircraft ownership, and 7,610 are registered to companies known for providing trust services to non-U.S. citizens—allowing subversion of FAA rules requiring that U.S. aircraft be registered to U.S. persons.

The Globe also found the FAA has almost never revoked the pilot licenses of suspected terrorists or people convicted of serious crimes. Several suspected terrorists were found holding FAA licenses when a computer scientist used the FAA airmen directory and public terrorist watch lists as sample data to test a search algorithm, not expecting to get any matches. “In all, [Mark] Schiffer and his company, Safe Banking Systems of New York, confirmed eight matches between FAA-approved airmen and various watch lists,” said the Globe report. In one exceptional case, a pilot convicted of attempting to smuggle spare parts for the F-14 Tomcat to Iran didn’t just keep his license. “Tabib, a veteran airman who at one time piloted private flights for the designer Gianni Versace, pleaded guilty and served time in federal prison from July 2007 until January 2009. Yet, according to court records, the FAA issued him an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, the highest-level license for pilots, just three months after his release, allowing him to fly large jets,” says the Globe article.

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The Vintage Air Rally’s next event will run for six weeks from Ushuaia, Argentina, to Lakeland, Florida. Setting off from the southern tip of Argentina on March 1, 2018, the group expects to fly 9,000 miles, passing through 19 countries, and arrive in Florida just in time for Sun N’ Fun. For fifteen teams with the fortitude and access to a pre-WWII era airplane, the costs of participating in Ushuaia2USA (U2U) are fully covered by the sponsors. “All costs including travel, shipping, accommodation, food, fuel, permits, fees, immigration and insurance” are covered, say the event promoters. Vintage Air Rally Director Sam Rutherford said, “This is a unique journey and we want to invite everyone in the world to join us. U2U is totally free, so we’re looking for characters with character who want to join us. Vintage Air Rally isn't about smart hotels. It's about grit (and glory), going to places usually out of reach. If you’re someone who thrives on adventure, excitement and derring-do then this is for you.”

Rutherford and the Vintage Air Rally previously organized the Crete2Cape Vintage Air Rally, which took place in November 2016, and saw teams of planes re-create the 1920s aviation pioneer route across Africa, from Crete to Cape Town. Of the 19 aircraft that set out from Crete, Greece, on Nov. 12, 2016, 14 survivors arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, after 8,000 miles and over a month of flying. The pre-WWII aircraft were the first to land at the Egyptian Pyramids at Giza in 80 years and the first to receive permission for level overflight of Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Image Credit: @Beatrice De Smet

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We don’t often find cause to clap for the meddling regulatory overreach of the FAA, but the agency won one this week that I, for one, am personally cheering. U.S. District Judge William G. Young said the city of Newton, Massachusetts (near Boston) can’t require drone operators to register their machines with the city, nor can it restrict them from flying below 400 feet. A suit against Newton’s law was filed in January by Michael Singer, a local physician and inventor. To be accurate, the FAA wasn’t directly involved.

In his complaint, Singer said the December 2016 law essentially banned drones from the city limits of Newton and was thus counter to federal law under a doctrine called preemption. That essentially supports the FAA’s view that it and it alone is the agency solely responsible for regulating things that fly. In its legal rejoinder to Singer’s suit, Newton argued that the federal government allows localities to co-regulate aviation. Judge Young wasn’t buying that argument: “This [Newton’s ordinance] thwarts not only the FAA’s objectives, but also those of Congress for the FAA to integrate drones into the national airspace.”

Right call, right language. Young’s ruling was, however, just another signpost on what will surely be a long and bumpy road toward integrating drones into the national airspace. The FAA is often reviled—and I’ve done some of the reviling—for its plodding, sclerotic performance in promulgating drone regulations. But like a drunk weaving up to the bar before last call, it’s getting there, however slowly.

I know readers of this blog are understandably fearful of the profusion of remotely piloted vehicles buzzing around. I don’t share the fear, but I don’t dismiss it either. Either way, if you’re involved in GA at any level, you should be happy about this decision, just as you should be happy with a court finding overturning restrictive noise ordinances at East Hampton Airport earlier this year. That’s because governments at the state, city and county level are necessarily concerned with the narrow complaints of their local constituencies.  The old money at Sag Harbor might just as soon convert East Hampton Airport back to pasture land but, failing that, let’s pass an ordinance to keep those noisy jets and helicopters from using it. The overbearing federal government via the FAA pushes back and often relies on the courts to make its directives stick.

The Newton decision may prove to be of more than local import, at least for a time. Other local governments are entertaining ordinances to prohibit the use of drones in their communities and those with smart city attorneys will hear the message for what it is: Tread carefully.  

The judge left open the question of whether the city could regulate more broadly on noise and privacy issues and he essentially invited the city to recast the law to avoid the preemption issue. In other words, Newton could legislate noise requirements that apply to all vehicles, not just those that fly. It could also write specific privacy statutes to protect property owners and individuals who want to be left unmolested by the prying eyes of a flying GoPro.

Compared to what threat drones may or may not represent, the privacy issue is all but incomprehensively complex. Privacy is under constant threat from data mining, from facial recognition, from surveillance cameras, from RFID chips, from smart power meters, from cloud computing and ad infinitum. Drones, take a number. If you want real privacy, lease a cave in Afghanistan. Except we’ve got a cloud of drones over there, too.

Without specifically saying so, Judge Young contributed directly to what, in his opinion, he said was the FAA’s requirement for “a delicate balance between safety and efficiency.”  Although he might not have intended it that way, the efficiency in this context is the ability of the unmanned aviation segment to expand and thrive without undue hindrance from a mess of local laws and regulations. That has to be balanced against reasonable protection of the public from being brained by one of these things. No single court decision will settle this once and for all. Think of it as a paint-by-the-numbers picture that’s slowly becoming discernible. We’ll get there eventually.

Steve Hinton Jr. set a record for the fastest speed recorded by a piston-powered aircraft over four 3-kilometer runs in early September and he spoke with AVweb's Russ Niles at the National Championship Air Races about how that kind of flying compares to pylon racing at Reno.

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Picture of the Week

We like dynamic air-to-air photos and this certainly qualifies. Shot somewhere over New England by Andy Zink, it's a fitting POTW. Thanks, Andy.

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