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Volume 25, Number 1b
January 3, 2018
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Trump Takes Credit For Airline Safety Record
Mary Grady

“Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation,” President Trump said in a tweet on Tuesday. “Good news - it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!” The Hill contacted the president’s press office, asking exactly what steps the president had taken to improve airline safety. “President Trump raised the bar for our nation’s aviation safety and security,” White House spokesman Raj Shah responded. “The president is pleased there were no commercial airline deaths in 2017, and hopes this remains consistent in 2018 and beyond.” The last fatal crash involving a commercial aircraft in the U.S. was the Colgan Air crash in 2009.

Last year was the safest year ever for commercial aviation, worldwide, according to statistics compiled by a Dutch affiliate of the U.S.-based nonprofit Flight Safety Foundation. No one died in a commercial passenger jet crash anywhere in the world. (The data excludes cargo flights, military transports and accidents caused by intentional acts.) The safety record is “the culmination of decades of work by thousands of people,” industry consultant John Cox, a former airline captain and accident investigator, told The Wall Street Journal. According to The Atlantic, “The president’s claim can’t withstand even slight scrutiny…. Changes in statistics like air safety are achieved over long time scales, and given the small number of crashes involved, minor deviations in the number are unlikely attributable to any specific presidential action—especially one taken in the just under a year Trump has been in office.”

Here Comes The Future
Mary Grady

Every year around this time, when the days are short and nights are long and cold, we can’t help spending some time thinking about the future. A new calendar provides the illusion of a fresh start, though in reality the Earth continues its elliptical orbit, as it has for millions of years, oblivious to our human concepts. December 31 rings out the old, and January 1 arbitrarily rings in the new, regardless of astronomical realities.

So what does the future hold? We all know that we don’t know. But we choose to prognosticate anyway. And here’s my contribution — I think the two aviation stories to watch in the new year will be autonomy and women.

The pilot community seems to be warming up to the idea of flying airplanes that are smarter than us. Many of us still remember the days of stick and rudder, islands in the sky and dead reckoning. But even many diehard old-style pilots, who believe nothing beats the hands-on flying in a DC-3 or Cub, appreciate that technology that makes flying safer isn’t really a bad thing. And the safer it gets, and the easier it gets to be a safe pilot, the more people will be interested in learning to fly.

The idea of a “flying car” isn’t really about having a machine you can park in your garage and drive to the airport. It’s about having an airplane that’s as simple and safe to operate as an automobile. And with autonomy surging in the automobile world, “as safe as driving” is going to change … cars driven by humans aren’t all that safe, but autonomous cars are. Autonomous, or semi-autonomous, airplanes will indisputably reduce the risks in GA flying. Already, the NTSB has reported that 2016 was the safest year in 50 years for general aviation. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that’s not because pilots are being more careful and training harder. It’s because more airplanes are better equipped with safety gear, from AOA indicators to envelope protection to parachutes.

As autonomous systems take over more and more of the chores of flying, and eliminate more of the risk, interest in private flying will soar. And that takes us to the next story — women. Aviation has been failing to inspire half the population, for decades now. The reasons for that are legion, but let’s not debate that. Let’s say that if the career track is there, for the airlines — and I think it is, especially now, with pilots in short supply — then there’s something in society that needs to change. And that’s the reality that it’s harder for women to combine an airline career with family life than it is for men. If that’s going to change, men are going to have to be willing to step up at home. Will that happen? Will we look back someday at 2018 as a turning point? Hard to say, but it’s a New Year. The shortest days of winter are over, and hope for the future reigns, at least for today.

Mooney Ovation Flight Review
Paul Bertorelli

Mooney is showing off its new Ovation Ultra, with a new Garmin G1000 NXi from Garmin and--a first--a pilot's side door for the cabin. In this in-depth flight review video, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli explains how the Ovation Ultra compares to the competition, especially the Cirrus SR22.


Zee Aero Flies A New VTOL
Mary Grady

Sebastian Thrun, CEO of Kitty Hawk, showed a clip on CNN last week that shows an unmanned VTOL taking off vertically from a runway, transitioning to horizontal flight at about 60 MPH and then landing vertically. Fareed Zakaria, host of the “The Next Big Idea” show, says the video hadn’t previously been shared with the public. The video is tagged with a NASA/Zee Aero logo. Fred Reid, a spokesman for Zee Aero, told AVweb in an email last week, “We prefer not to disclose further details beyond what Sebastian said in the interview.” Thrun says in the interview that since the clip was made, “We’ve made a lot of progress,” but he doesn’t say when the video was shot.

NASA public affairs officer J.D. Harrington told AVweb in an email he had no information about the flight, despite the NASA tag on the video. “NASA is not involved in designing or manufacturing flying cars,” he said. “NASA is working on UTM, an air traffic management system for small drones that could possibly be scaled to include these larger aircraft.” Both Zee Aero and Kitty Hawk are headquartered in California and owned by Larry Page, a co-founder of Google. Zee Aero is headed by Ilan Kroo. Page has reportedly invested $100 million in the two companies. The flying clip is about two minutes into the interview.

UPDATE: On Wednesday, a spokesperson from Zee Aero contacted AVweb to clarify some facts about the interview. The video shown on CNN was shot by NASA at Edwards Air Force Base in February 2014, as part of the Space Act Program with NASA, the spokesperson said, and this was its first public showing. A CNN spokesperson confirmed that the interview with Thrun first ran on December 24, although it had been scheduled to air in September, as reported in an earlier version of this story. Also, Ilan Kroo is no longer the head of Zee Aero, that position is held by Eric Allison. 

Piper Reports Growth
Mary Grady

Piper Aircraft hired more than 300 employees in the last 18 months, a 20 percent increase in staffing, the company has reported. The growth is driven by increased demand for Piper’s trainer airplanes and its M-class line. The M-class single-engine turboprops — the M600 and M500 — and the piston-powered M350 were certified in 2016. “With aircraft orders in place for 2018 and several long-term contracts for trainer aircraft, the near-term forecast is stable,” said CEO Simon Caldecott. “Additionally, our commitment to a level-loaded, build-to-order business model further enhances stability and creates consistent workload for the team.” The company now has more than 900 workers at its headquarters in Vero Beach, Florida.

The growth is a turnaround from just a couple of years ago, when Piper was laying off workers, citing slow sales in overseas markets. In July 2015, Piper announced a layoff of 150 workers, from a staff of 750. “Piper Aircraft has experienced steady recovery since 2009; however, we are facing challenges and economic instability in several key regions of the world, including Asia, parts of Europe and Latin America,” Caldecott said at the time. The latest GAMA numbers, reflecting sales from January through September 2017, show year-to-date deliveries of 99 airplanes for Piper, including 36 M-class aircraft.

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Mayo Clinic Offers BasicMed Course
Mary Grady

The Mayo Clinic is now offering a free online BasicMed course for pilots, the organization has announced. The course consists of six modules, covering medical self-assessments, warning signs of serious medical conditions, effects of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and more. The course takes about 90 minutes to complete and is followed by an online test. “We’re pleased to be able to provide this new option for pilots,” said Dr. Clayton Cowl, course director. “This course has been a culmination of efforts of many colleagues at Mayo dedicated to aviation safety. A wide range of medical experts across the organization as well as experts with civil aviation medical associations across the country have contributed medical knowledge to help pilots recognize medical risks.”

Pilots must undergo a physical exam prior to taking the course, and must submit evidence of the passed physical exam online prior to beginning the course. Once the course is completed, pilots can print a certificate to keep in their logbooks. Certification information is transmitted to the FAA to confirm participation. The clinic is the second organization to offer an online BasicMed course. AOPA’s online course was approved by the FAA in April. Pilots who choose to fly under the BasicMed rules must take an online course every two years. About 25,000 pilots so far have opted for the program, AOPA says.

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First Class Graduates From Online A&P Program
Mary Grady

The first FAA-approved hybrid course for A&P mechanics, offering some of the coursework online, has graduated its first class from Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology in Tulsa, Oklahoma, officials at the school have announced. Fifteen students completed the program, which comprises 13 to 16 months of coursework online and then seven months at the Tulsa campus for hands-on training. “The whole objective of the program is to give young men and young women training required by the FAA to be certified as airplane and powerplant technicians,” said Ron Worthington, Spartan vice president of curriculum development. “Once they receive this FAA certification, it allows them to work on any U.S.-certified aircraft, its subsystems and components.”

Spartan also offers a traditional on-campus aviation maintenance program, with a 15-month or 18-month option. “This hybrid training program is a great example of preparing for today’s demand for ‘new collar jobs’ and provides students with more flexible access to quality training,” said Dan Peterson, CEO of Spartan Education Group. “Spartan seeks to alleviate the constraints students face with relocating to another city to begin a comprehensive training program.” The college has also entered into a partnership with Delta Air Lines to establish a pipeline of trained aviation maintenance technicians.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story misidentified the CEO and included some incorrect details about the program.  

Ultralight Pilot Who First Led Geese Dies
Russ Niles

A wild-eyed Canadian artist, dreamer and ultralight pilot who inspired one of the world’s most unusual wildlife conservation efforts died Dec. 30 in his underground house in rural Ontario. Bill Lishman was 78. In 1985, he "imprinted" a flock of 12 Canada Geese he’d raised on his biplane ultralight. In 1988, he led them, in V formation, to winter in South Carolina. Five years later, he repeated the effort with 36 birds and caught the attention of those in the desperate fight to keep the Whooping Crane from extinction. Between 2001 and 2015, Operation Migration used costumed pilots flying ultralights to lead young cranes raised in captivity in Wisconsin to Florida. Unfortunately, it didn’t work that well because the artificially raised birds weren’t great parents and the operation was shut down by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2016. 

Lishman, who had received a diagnosis of leukemia 10 days before his death, had the migration inspiration in 1985 and with the help of his remarkably resilient family raised the first brood of geese for his celebrated scheme. Migratory birds imprint on the first thing they see when they hatch and that was Lishman’s aircraft. His unusual story was the subject of the popular movie Fly Away Home in 1996. Lishman was a highly respected sculptor and artist and his works are on prominent display across Canada. He left behind Paula, his wife of 50 years, and three grown children.

Picture of the Week
Jeff Edgerton, of Shasta, CA, was the only contributor to take time away from the celebrations to send us a photo and as many of us shiver through a colder than normal holiday season this shot of Wilson Bar, Idaho reminds us that better times are just around the corner. Happy New Year from all of us at AVweb.

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Brainteasers Quiz #239: Have A Little Fun, Already

The FAA can be so serious when discussing regulations and safety of flight -- which are important -- but many of us began flying simply because it was fun. To keep it safely enjoyable, simply ace this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.

Short Final

I had just departed a famous airport and proceeded on course.

Tower:  Cessna XYZ, what is your heading?

Cessna XYZ:  XYZ heading Southwest.

Tower:  Cessna XYZ, what is your heading? 

Cessna XYZ:  XYZ heading Southwest.

Tower (agitated):  Cessna XYZ, I need to know your heading 

Cessna XYZ:  XYZ heading Southwest.

Tower (very agitated):  Cessna XYZ, fly heading 225 degrees

Joe Serdynski


Meet the AVweb Team

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Mary Grady
Geoff Rapoport

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