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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 That proposal will be withdrawn, the FAA said, because the new action “represents a more comprehensive corrective action plan than previously proposed.”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.

Dick Collins: Pay It Forward, Play It Straight
 
Tom Bliss, Publisher
 
 

Dick Collins didn’t know me at all in 1978 and didn’t owe me anything. But Dick did two memorable things for me, two career bookends really, that will last with me until I go West as he did this week.

I was the new marcomm specialist at Collins Avionics, hired that hot summer in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Dick and a group of aviation writers attended our pre-NBAA press event shortly before the convention. I’m sure my time with him in Cedar was limited to a firm handshake and sincere pleasantries. But I was 24, and Dick was a giant of GA to me.

I had written an ambitious press kit and six or seven autopilot and color radar brochures— not bad for a rookie in-house agency guy. My boss, Tony Huebsch, was a hands-off pro and let me do the work. Apparently, he was pleased with me, but Tony was not a back-slapping, attaboy kind of boss.

So a week after the press event, Tony called me into the office on the intercom. “There’s something I want you to see,” was all he said. Tony reached over his desk and handed me an unfolded letter, clearly from Flying magazine. It was from Dick Collins; a thank-you note.

More pleasantries. But Dick also devoted a paragraph to my young self, naming me as someone who did a good job, professionally. He sent it not to me—but to my boss. Tony didn’t add any comments. But it was a boost from Dick Collins, editor of Flying, that I never forgot.

I ran into Dick over the years while working as a marcomm manager for Collins, Sperry Flight Systems and as the original at my own marketing agency. It was good to know that he was on top of his game as captain of that iconic monthly that I still love.

I read his stuff and learned from a great pilot who happened to be a writer with straightforward wisdom worth sharing.

Dick was a big influence on my life. It’s no coincidence that my third airplane is a pressurized Centurion. That’s what he flew until he had it dismantled when he stepped back from flying in 2007.

Some 34 years after I met Dick, another note from him arrived via email, in 2012, congratulating me on being named publisher of AVweb. It meant a lot to me. I have no doubt that he had encouraged dozens of young people throughout his life.

He had that kind of class … that kind of hard-earned wisdom. His remarkable life was a reminder for me, and for all of us, to pay it forward, and to play it straight.

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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AVweb is the world's premier independent aviation news resource, online since 1995. Our reporting, features, and newsletters are brought to you by:

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Paul Berge
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