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Volume 25, Number 38c
September 21, 2018
 
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JetBlue Makes First Flights Using Sustainable Fuel
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

JetBlue announced that its newest aircraft, an Airbus A321 it received on Wednesday, will make its first flights using a sustainable jet fuel blend. According to the company, the acceptance flight and JetBlue’s ferry flight, which is scheduled for September 20, will be the airline’s first flights to use sustainable (also called renewable) biofuel. JetBlue will be ferrying the aircraft from Airbus’ production facility in Mobile, Alabama. 

“Renewable jet fuel affirms JetBlue’s belief that we can help define our industry’s future path,” said JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes. “Our goal is to serve as a market-maker for renewable jet fuel, creating demand and therefore supporting supply. We’re working closely with Airbus to set up infrastructure for more options in the southeast region.”

Sustainable aviation fuel comes from easily sourced oil crops such as jatropha, camelina and algae or from wood and waste biomass. The fuel being used for the JetBlue flights is 15.5 percent sustainable jet fuel blended with traditional jet fuel. It is being supplied and certified by Air BP. JetBlue is expecting delivery of four more A321s by the end of the year, all of which will start out on the same fuel blend. Airbus says it has been offering customers the option of taking delivery of new aircraft from its facility in Toulouse, France, using a blend of renewable jet fuel since May 2016 and will “determine the next steps toward offering this option to more customers taking aircraft deliveries from Mobile” after the JetBlue deliveries.

The majority of JetBlue's flight will still be flown with traditional jet fuel, although the airline says it is working to be "proactive about mitigating the impact of changes in the fuel market by flying more efficient aircraft, optimizing its fuel consumption, moving to renewable jet fuel and more." The company also stated that renewable jet fuel is a key aspect of its emissions reduction strategy. Airbus has said that its goal is to source sustainable fuels in the southeastern United States, but no timeline has been given.

Who Needs A Certificate Anyway?
 
Paul Bertorelli
 

From the curious headline file: Crash Pilot Had Certificate Revoked. We published that last week atop a story describing the fatal crash of a Cessna 335 in which it was revealed that the owner/pilot had apparently been flying without a pilot certificate for 21 years, having lost it by revocation.

A curious headline generated an equally curious response and became, if not a morality test, an ignition point on the value—or lack thereof—of government regulation. Asked one reader, “Did his lack of a certificate cause the crash?” The question goes to the heart of why the story ran in the first place. The lack of a certificate was the news hook. Otherwise, it’s just another fatal airplane crash and we don’t routinely run those unless there’s something spectacular about them, such as multiple fatalities or damage or injuries on the ground. Whether to run a crash story or not is sometimes an arbitrary decision that’s reached more by feel than formula.

But for this discussion, that’s secondary to what the lack of certificate had to do with the crash. The answer is: nothing. A slip of plastic simply isn’t determinative in whether an airplane flies, crashes or remains parked. But what’s behind the certificate certainly may be. That begets a question for those rugged individualists who believe the government ought to butt out of everything. Should anybody be able to buy an airplane, learn to fly it wherever he or she pleases sans any government licensing? Or even any insurance? Or approved instruction?

Or is there a reasonable public interest to be found in government oversight of training and licensing? Logically extended, how about certification of airplanes not used for commercial purposes? Should any company be able to sell anything it wants to the unsuspecting public, with caveat emptor the only restraint? These are not easy questions to answer because there’s no reliable data measuring the effectiveness of pilot certification, leading one commenter to inanely—but accurately—observe that far more pilots with certificates crash than those without. Other than that, Captain Smith, how was your maiden Atlantic crossing?

My own deep dive into this quicksand revealed more questions than answers. My research into the light sport aircraft accident pattern revealed that it’s between four and five times higher than GA on the whole. And while light sport is generally less regulated than the rest of general aviation, there are far too many unknown variables to conclude that FAA oversight impacts safety in any meaningful way.

Airports aren’t just places with runways and hangars. They’re also gossip mills. Most of us know people on the field who may skirt the requirement for a medical or perhaps even a certificate. I knew of one pilot who flew regularly and hadn’t had a medical in 20 years. You might expect the insurance industry to close the holes in this net, but there’s no requirement for aircraft insurance and some owners happily self insure. As a condition of hangarage, some airports require proof of insurance, but far from all do.

The FAA, thankfully, lacks the resources to conduct a dragnet of pilot scofflaws and I think we can all agree the impact on safety would probably be nil if they did. So as much as we all like to whine about the onerous boot of the FAA on our necks, the reality is that you have to almost work at getting busted. The enforcement net is wispy at best.

And if we’re honest here, we all have to concede that regulations are rubbery in the margins. If you’ve never busted the 2000-foot VFR cloud requirement, taken off a little over gross or flown an approach just a tad out of legal currency, post your affidavit below and I’ll put you in for a Meritorious Compliance Certificate.

Still, even if we nibble at the margins, most of us have a threshold beyond which we’re simply not going to venture. Flying without a certificate would be far beyond my personal pale and so would flying without a medical where one is required, even though I know the medical requirement is demonstrably silly.

It relates to attitude and consciousness of competence. If I think I don’t need a certificate and reject the medical and insurance if I can get away with it, then it’s a short step to thinking recurrent training and proficiency and an annual for the airplane are just for the chumps who believe that this rules crap has anything to do with risk mitigation. And once I have reached that point, I’m well on the way to being what I always hoped I wouldn’t be: a menace.

One Injured In DEA Cessna Crash
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

A Cessna Stationair operated by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) crashed in Sugar Land, Texas, on Wednesday afternoon. The aircraft hit a power line and struck two vehicles on the road while attempting to make an emergency landing. It has been reported that one of the three DEA agents onboard the aircraft sustained minor injuries in the crash, was taken to the hospital and has since been released. The occupants of the cars were uninjured.

The aircraft went down around 3 p.m. in a residential area just north of Sugar Land Regional Airport (SGR). According to the FAA, the pilot reported engine trouble immediately before the accident. The Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office stated that there was no post-crash fire, but the aircraft was leaking fuel. A spokesperson for the DEA said that its agents were conducting a flight training exercise. The FAA and NTSB are investigating the accident.

The 411 On 406s
 
Myron Nelson
 
 

Most aircraft owners and operators are keenly aware of the rapidly approaching deadline to comply with the federal mandate on ADS-B installations. However, there is an additional aircraft technology wave upon us that also offers potentially significant advancements in aviation safety. This involves new digital 406 MHz emergency locator transmitters and since this new technology could also become a federal mandate (in additional to saving your life), it is important to understand the technology, its advantages and its costs.

In the early 70s, particularly in Alaska, there were a series of unfortunate accidents and other events where downed aircraft turned out to be difficult or impossible to find. That prompted the U.S. federal government to mandate that all aircraft operating in the country (with some published exceptions) must be equipped with an emergency locator transmitter (ELT), to assist in search and rescue efforts. Most other countries followed suit if they didn’t have such a mandate already. The standards were pretty simple. The ELT device needed to be relatively durable in order to survive a high-G impact and to have a self-activating shock triggering mechanism, its own antenna and an internal power supply sufficient for an extended broadcast period.

Those early designs had severe faults and limitations. Most of their battery packs were highly specialized and expensive with limited shelf lives. The units themselves were notorious for going off when they weren’t supposed to and not triggering when they were actually needed. Their pulsating analog homing signal was little more than dumb noise with no supplemental information. False alarms were difficult to screen out, and rather large search areas were calculated when signals were detected. Stricken aircraft usually took several hours to locate at best.

In spite of their severe limitations, there can be no doubt that there are many pilots and passengers who are alive today because of their ELTs. Lamentably, there are also documented cases of search and rescue personnel who have been tragically lost while valiantly responding to alert missions, often in the same poor flying conditions around weather and/or terrain that caused the alerted event in the first place.

ELTs broadcasting on the traditional 121.5 MHz VHF frequency have been monitored in the past by other aircraft, ground stations and even satellites. However, in 2009 the SARSAT monitoring of the 121.5 analog signals was quietly terminated, something that a lot of operators even today may not realize. Certain ground stations and specialized search and rescue aircraft usually have the equipment available to “direction find” (DF) the signal to home in on it. Monitoring aircraft without such equipment can only detect a signal’s presence and judge whether the intensity of the signal is increasing or decreasing with no idea of the signal’s actual position or azimuth. Airliners are “requested” to monitor 121.5 on backup radios when they aren’t in use, but common airline routes don’t cover all areas where signals could originate, especially in off-peak hours. Sometimes ATC will request a certain aircraft to listen and report in an effort to track down a suspected signal or radar disappearance, but that process is akin to playing Battleship over a massive area and is woefully inefficient and time consuming.

A Digital World

Around the turn of the century, the digital advancement in radio technology brought a new, much improved product into the marketplace in the form of 406 MHz ELT units. One huge advantage of a digital signal is that in addition to a homing signal, it can send digital data that can be vital in determining the legitimacy of the alert and actual location of the transmission, be it a harmless false alarm on an airport ramp or a dire life-or-death emergency in a remote location. Each device is preregistered with the operator’s contact information and assigned a unique digital hex code, which is extremely beneficial to weeding out false alarms prior to sending out expensive search and rescue crews on a potential folly. The old 121.5 units could only be located to within a 12- to 25-mile range. That might look tiny on a map but it is huge on snowshoes.

The new 406 units refine the area down to 2 to 3 miles by signal alone; however, most units also digitally broadcast precise lat/long GPS data that pinpoints the target to mere yards/meters, effectively taking the “search” out of search and rescue. Unlike the 121.5 units whose satellite monitoring was terminated, the 406 units continue to be monitored by GEOSAR satellites 24/7 over most of the world. Additional 406 design upgrades include better shock, fire and water-resistance standards. Also, since the digital signal can be pulsed a few seconds every minute rather than continuously broadcast like the analog units, the internal batteries, usually modern li-ion, can sustain the alert broadcast for a much longer period of time. The “transmission power” of new 406 units is advertised by one vendor as 50 times greater than previous units.

Most aviation advocacy groups have lobbied the U.S. government to not mandate a transition to the 406 units, at least for a while, so that those who want to continue the use of their previous generation 121.5 units can continue to do so and so far, the United States hasn’t made their use mandatory. Other countries have mandated the changeover, most notably for U.S. pilots is our neighbor to the south, Mexico, which after several extensions went with a hard mandate this past July that non-exempt aircraft operating in their airspace must be equipped with a 406 MHz unit. Canada and some Caribbean countries could be following Mexico’s example shortly. At some point the U.S. likely will as well.

Like all bleeding-edge technological advances, the initial units to hit the market were much more expensive than their predecessors, especially for those who don’t have the capability to install the units themselves, as they require an instrument panel control head and associated cabling installed that most older generation units did not. Unless the unit has an internal GPS as some do, they also require a GPS signal feed from onboard avionics. Those wiring issues can get complicated and expensive in certain applications, especially for certified aircraft owners. The GPS signal isn’t required for FAR compliance, but its absence negates arguably the largest safety advantage of the technology upgrade.

As is often the case with new technology, the passage of time and market presence has dramatically reduced the purchase price of the new units to about the same level that their predecessors were back in the day. Some manufacturers build new units that are plug and play replacements of their old designs using the same mounts, control heads and antennae. A quick perusal of aviation online sites shows complete 406 ELT packages available at less than $500 USD. Since appointment availability at avionics shops is already tight with the ADS-B mandate, it may make sense for some to bite the bullet and have both projects accomplished during the same visit.

While the advantages of the new digital units are head and shoulders above the old technology and will literally save lives, obviously there are those whose flying activities simply don’t justify the investment to change, especially with the already mandated deadline of ADS-B compliance which in its own right has search and rescue advantages imbedded within. The risk envelopes of an all-weather country crosser are different than a fair-weather burger runner who usually short hops around with several others from the air park. Enough is enough some will say, and that is certainly a justifiable position. Choice is good.

Obviously, for someone building an experimental aircraft, now or in the future, installing a 406 unit is an absolute no brainer. For those experimental or certified who will need to convert over, a serious assessment of the value of getting found quicker (or at all) when the landings column no longer equals the takeoffs column will need to be made. Sometimes federal employees can actually come up with worthwhile ideas (cue laugh track).

Since the advent of seat belt and shoulder harnesses, rarely in our industry has such a relatively minor investment offered so many potentially lifesaving capabilities as a new digital 406 MHz emergency locator transmitter.


Myron Nelson has flown professionally for over 30 years. He and his son both fly for Southwest Airlines. Myron built and flies an award winning RV-10 based in Arizona.

AOPA Offers Rusty Pilots Program Online
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has announced that it is now offering an interactive online version of its Rusty Pilots Program. The two-hour course is based on the in-person Rusty Pilots seminars that AOPA has been giving at venues such as fly-ins, airshows, schools and flight clubs since 2014. As the name implies, the program is designed to help pilots who have been on the ground for a while return to flying.

“We are very excited to be able to share this new online course with pilots who are unable to attend our seminars in person,” said AOPA Vice President of Aviation Program Operations Elizabeth Tennyson. “We are confident that making it available online will help many more pilots get back to active flying and make general aviation stronger for everyone.”

As AOPA’s Jamie Beckett told AVweb in a podcast before Sun ‘N Fun this year, Rusty Pilots uses a cross-country flight scenario to review key aviation information, including medical reforms, weather briefings, preflight planning, regulations and airspace. According to AOPA, more than 23,600 pilots have participated in the Rusty Pilots program since its launch. The Rusty Pilots Online course qualifies for FAA Wings credit and is available for free to AOPA members.

First 777 Donated To Aviation Museum
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

Boeing and Cathay Pacific have announced that they will be jointly donating the first Boeing 777 to Arizona’s Pima Air & Space Museum. The aircraft, registered B-HNL, first flew on June 12, 1994, and was used by Boeing as a test airplane for several years afterwards. It was purchased by Cathay Pacific in 2000 and flew passengers around the globe until it was retired earlier this year.

“As the world’s very first 777, B-HNL holds a very special place in the history of both our airline and that of commercial aviation, and we are very pleased it will soon bring enjoyment to enthusiasts at its new home in Arizona,” said Cathay Pacific CEO Rupert Hogg. According to Boeing, more than 1,660 orders have been placed for the 777 since its introduction.

The Pima Air & Space Museum is located in Tucson, Arizona. Considered to be one of the largest non-government-funded aviation and space museums in the world, the facility opened in May 1976. The museum houses more than 350 historical aircraft.

EAA Hosts Accident Investigation Course
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

In partnership with the Transportation Safety Institute (TSI), the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) hosted a three-day Experimental Accident Investigation course this week. According to EAA, attendees were primarily “FAA field office staff who work with the certification of experimental and light-sport aircraft and investigate accidents.” The course, which is held at EAA’s headquarters in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, includes lectures, site visits to local aviation businesses and a tour of the EAA Aviation Museum.

“EAA has been participating in this course for more than fifteen years,” said EAA government relations director Tom Charpentier. “Every time we host TSI, it is a tremendous opportunity to speak directly to the front-line FAA field staff that will be interacting with our members. We hope that the accident investigation skills we are teaching will rarely be used in practice, but we are confident that they will lead to more accurate reports and insights when accidents do happen.”

TSI is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation and is tasked with providing safety, security and environmental training for the department. EAA says it will be partnering with TSI for two additional courses this year and has four more planned for 2019.

Embry-Riddle Expands High School STEM Program
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Gaetz Aerospace Institute will be expanding its concurrent enrollment program offering accelerated science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses for high school students to schools in Ohio and Louisiana this year. The program allows students to get both high school and college credit for successfully completed classes. Available courses include aeronautical science, unmanned aircraft systems, meteorology and engineering.

“By preparing students with real-life skills and knowledge, we are working hand-in-hand with government, industries and local school district partners to guarantee a pipeline of talent for Florida’s growing aerospace and aviation industry,” said executive director for the Gaetz Aerospace Institute, Colleen Conklin.

The program, which launched in Florida in 2004 and expanded to Illinois in 2013, is currently offered in over 60 high schools. Classes are taught by college-credentialed high school teachers. According to Embry-Riddle, instructors from the university provide “discipline-specific training and orientation regarding course curriculum, assessment criteria, pedagogy and course philosophy to the high school instructor.” The university also offers scholarships for participating students.

Picture of the Week, September 20, 2018
 
 
Taken at Lake Hood seaplane base in Anchorage, Alaska, with a Canon 5D Mark II. Photo by Robbie Culver.

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