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Volume 25, Number 18b
May 2, 2018
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FAA Expands Checks For CFM Engines
Mary Grady

A new FAA Airworthiness Directive responding to the recent engine failure on a Southwest 737 will require initial and repetitive inspections of the fan blades in CFM56-7B engines, based on the accumulated fan-blade cycles, the FAA said on Tuesday. The AD (PDF), scheduled to be published on Wednesday, aims to “address the risk of fan-blade failure for the entire CFM56-7B fleet.” The FAA had issued an NPRM, prior to the recent failure, to address an unsafe condition based on a similar event that occurred in 2016. That proposal will be withdrawn, the FAA said, because the new action “represents a more comprehensive corrective action plan than previously proposed.”

The new AD requires operators to perform detailed inspections of each fan blade before the fan blade accumulates 20,000 cycles since new, or within 113 days from the effective date of the AD, whichever occurs later, then repeat the inspection after no more than 3,000 cycles. The required inspections will take about two hours, the FAA said, and if a fan blade needs to be replaced, it will cost about $8,500. The FAA estimates the AD will affect 3,716 engines installed on U.S.-registered airplanes. The AD is in addition to one that was issued last month in response to the Southwest accident.

DOT Moves To Monetize Drones
Mary Grady

It’s a small step, but the Transportation Department on Monday took what could be the first move toward allowing the widespread commercial use of drones to transport cargo, and eventually, passengers as well. The DOT—the parent of the FAA—published a “notification of procedures” (PDF) on Monday stating that it will provide “certificate or exemption authority” to companies proposing to operate drones to engage in air transportation, including the delivery of goods for compensation. The FAA also verified to AVweb that the statement applies to the transport of passengers in “autonomous or semi-autonomous flying taxis” as well as cargo. The FAA also told AVweb the agency’s goal is to encourage industry to move forward and develop their ideas without being encumbered by the slow pace of FAA rulemaking, while emphasizing that “both the FAA and industry will not compromise on safety.”

The FAA will retain “safety authority” over all operations, the DOT said in its notification. “Companies proposing to operate UAS to engage in air transportation, including the delivery of goods for compensation, must first obtain certificate or exemption authority from the Department prior to engaging in the air transportation,” the DOT said. “The Department intends to use its existing regulatory procedures for processing UAS operators’ requests for economic authority.” Amazon and Google already are developing drones with the aim to deliver products directly to customers, and multiple companies, including Boeing and Airbus, are working on concepts for passenger drones.

AUVSI: Drones Drive A New Economy
Paul Bertorelli

With more than 700 exhibitors at this week’s AUVSI XPONENTIAL show in Denver, there’s a drone for every purpose and the association says UAS applications are expanding. “This business is adding more and more jobs to the overall economy,” the association’s president, Brian Wynne, told some of the 8500 attendees at an opening-day keynote address.

And just since last year’s Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International show in Dallas, several new companies have established UAS operation, including Airbus. Wynne said new drone activities are popping up monthly, although regulation—or actually lack of it—continues to hinder further growth.

“I would say the sky’s the limit, except we all know that’s not true. It’s more like 400 feet,” said Steven Bradbury, a Department of Transportation official who briefed the opening session on the state of UAS regulation. But he said the industry has, nonetheless, expanded its footprint considerably. Well over a million small drones have been registered with the FAA and more than 100,000 of those are commercial operators.

While Bradbury acknowledged that the FAA is moving slower than the industry would like on critical regulation such as beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations, he said both agencies are primarily concerned with safety and security.

“Americans have no tolerance for an aviation mishaps … terrorism or an accident,” he said. A drone involved in a significant accident or terrorist act would create a setback for the industry, he added.

Meanwhile, the DOT has announced that it sees the legal framework to streamline approvals for drone deliveries under the so-called Air Taxi Exemption rule in FAR Part 298. To qualify, would-be operators will have to show evidence of insurance, register with the FAA and have a safety plan in place.

Yeah, I Listen To The Cabin Briefing
Paul Bertorelli

In the ultimate act of jabbing a finger into the eye of fate, I’m writing today’s blog from seat 19D on a Southwest Airlines flight from Tampa to Denver. I tried to get the window seat directly abeam of the fan section of one of the engines, but passengers similarly casting caution to the wind had already grabbed them, along with the overhead space I desperately wanted for my expensive camera gear.

The topic du jour is the cabin safety briefing. As we reported earlier this week, a viral photo showing passengers on the ill-fated WN 1380 with improperly worn oxygen masks raised the issue of how effective cabin briefings are. Or, more accurately, do passengers pay attention to them and embrace the simple safety instructions therein? Easy answer: No to both. Think back to your last airline flight. Did you listen to the briefing?

I actually do, as a matter of fact. And on today’s flight, I did the same. I have two reasons for doing this, both related to my background as an aviator. The first is the quaint notion of professional courtesy. As I’ve noted before, flight attendants aren’t waiters and waitresses, but trained professionals meant to enhance the safety prospects of panicked passengers who, in the event of an accident, are too clueless to react because they’re even more clueless for having ignored the briefing. If a trained flight attendant is going to bother with this, I can take a few moments from my meaningful embrace of a seat cushion to at least listen. I always make eye contact in counterpoint to those who don’t.

Second, the likelihood of an accident on an airliner is so remote that it’s practically zero, but it’s not really zero. ^%$# happens even in a 10-9 universe. Paying attention reminds me to keep my seatbelt on in case of severe turbulence. It’s not so uncommon and I have seen the effects of it in both airliners and small aircraft. It gives me the willies. Also, I have another quaint habit of counting the seat rows to the nearest exit. I would never need that silly knowledge because I’ll never have to escape a smoke-filled cabin. But what the hey, what else do I have to do here other than peck away at this blog? (Today’s number is five, by the way.) 

I’m a frequent Southwest customer for a short list of reasons, but one is that the cabin and flight crews often apply a humorous touch to their work that occasionally veers to the cynical. After United had that unfortunate set-to with a passenger disinclined to vacate an overbooked seat, a Southwest flight attendant closed his welcome to Seattle thank you with “at Southwest, we beat fares, not passengers.” Predictably, the cabin erupted, so someone was listening. I now wonder if the airline will discourage its FAs from adding a little fun to their briefings, which they often do. I certainly hope not. Any means of keeping people engaged is a net plus, however it can be done.

Those stressed-out passengers in the photo took an unfair drubbing on social media, although not so much in our commentary sections, I’m satisfied to say. Whether their lack of proper use of the oxygen masks—which are more like kiddie drink cups than proper safety equipment—matters less to me than the insult of people passing judgment on others in duress from the warm safety of their homes and offices. In my view, unless you’ve been there and done that, you ought to respect the actions of those who have the photo to prove they have.

I don’t normally buy the Wi-Fi option on airline flights, but today I’m making the exception, in a brash attempt to gouge out fate’s other eye. I’m pushing the publish button somewhere over eastern Oklahoma and on the off chance I don’t make it, tell my wife I love her and give Wriggly dog one of those big Milk Bone treats.

TUESDAY A.M. ADDITION: A reader wrote to ask if wearing your seatbelt would keep you from being sucked out of the airplane in the event of an explosive decompression. This is probably at the bottom of the list of good reasons to keep the belt fastened and may be impossible to accurately answer because there are so many variables related to size of the cabin, the breach and the cabin differential. The myth of a bullet hole causing explosive decompression is just that, a myth.

And speaking of myths, Myth Busters once did a segment on explosive decompression that eerily presaged the 1380 accident. It gives a good idea of the forces involved in a cabin decompression. This clip  shows that a person sitting near a large opening could indeed be drawn out of the cabin, but doesn't address whether a seatbelt would defeat that. It seems unlikely that a passenger could avoid serious injury in such an incident, even if he or she remained inside the cabin.

In 1972, engineers learned the hard way about the so-called size effect of pressurized cabins. In the famous Windsor accident, due to a faulty latching mechanism, the cargo door of a DC-10 departed in flight and the outrush of air from a large cabin crushed the rear cabin floor, significantly damaging or disrupting flight and engine controls. The flight landed safely, but barely. Two years later, a DC-10 in Paris wasn't as lucky. The same door blew off of a Turkish Airlines DC-10 and all 349 people aboard died in the crash. 

GPS Jamming: Major Threat To Drones
Paul Bertorelli

As drones multiply, as they are expected to do, incidents of GPS (or GNSS) jamming and spoofing are expected to rise in concert during the next decade. That poses not just a threat of loss of the vehicles, but also to nearby aircraft and unaware people on the ground, according to Jeremy Bennington of Spirent, a company that specializes in jamming and spoofing defense. Bennington spoke at the AUVSI XPONENTIAL Expo in Denver this week and sketched a threat that’s not yet emergent, but will escalate enough to require drone manufacturers to harden their aircraft against interference.

Bennington said more than 150,000 incidents of jamming or spoofing have been recorded, affecting aircraft, ships and ground vehicles. And it’s not a hard thing to do. “If you want jam GPS, get your credit card out. It’s really rather easily done,” he told a group of XPONENTIAL attendees. The event is organized by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International and although dominated by aircraft systems, land and marine vehicles are also represented. And all of them have been jammed or spoofed.

In one incident in Hanover, Germany, Bennington said, a GPS emulator being used for maintenance disrupted inbound aircraft navigation and actually electronically moved the runway threshold. It took authorities hours to find the source. NASA’s ASRS has recorded more than 100 incidents of interference, some serious enough to cause aircraft to lose position data. While jamming splatters the signal, spoofing actually fools the GNSS receiver into believing it’s somewhere else. In one well-known incident in the Mediterranean Sea, more than 20 ships were spoofed into believing their positions were miles away from their true location.

Drones are beginning to use a method called sensor fusion—cross checking position with radar, lidar or inertial systems—to defeat spoofing, but these systems add cost and weight. Bennington says the industry will have to respond sooner than later. “We will see the impact as more drones enter service,” he said.

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How Vashon Wants to Revolutionize Aviation with the Ranger LSA
Paul Bertorelli

Vashon Aircraft wants to revolutionize light aircraft manufacture with the Vashon Ranger, an all-metal light sport aircraft intended to be both a sort of RV for outback flying and a trainer. In this AVweb video, Paul Bertorelli dives deep into the Vashon story, including an in-depth report on the factory.

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Urban Drone Taxis: Don’t Hold Your Breath
Paul Bertorelli

Hardly a week goes by when another story about autonomous drones whisking passengers over traffic-choked city streets fails to portend the George Jetson future. Less in evidence are reports on rapid progress in the regulatory foundation for such technology and at this week’s AUVSI XPONENTIAL Expo in Denver, the crystal ball is hardly clearer.

In one XPONENTIAL session, UAS expert Johnny Walker reviewed the laborious history of drone regulation thus far and he offers no predictions on where it’s going for the passenger-carrying variety, at least time wise. “I don’t know. Think about it … the idea of NextGen came about 20 years ago. When I retired from the FAA in 2001, the plan was to do just what we’re talking about now. Other priorities came up,” said Walker, who remains involved in the UAS industry as an airspace expert.

When asked point-blank when such vehicles might be a reality, he says, “Well, probably beyond 2020.

One of the issues that comes to mind is how airspace is delegated in the United States. The airspace hasn’t changed since the 1950s. The sectors and how we develop sectors is the same.” NextGen may change this because in so-called performance-based airspace, the system won’t need large volumes of airspace for commercial traffic and that will theoretically free up other airspace for unmanned or manned autonomous vehicles.

This week, the FAA announced the initial implementation of the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability or LAANC. While it’s seen as a great step forward because it streamlines approvals, it’s still a small step. “Keep in mind,” Walker said in this podcast recorded at EXPONENTIAL, “that program is for visual line of sight only. It takes a lot of burden off the FAA for individual approvals.”

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