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A bill has been introduced in the Senate that would allow more pilots to fly without a medical certificate, AOPA said on Tuesday. The measure mirrors a similar bill that was introduced in the House in December. The legislation being proposed would expand the third-class medical exemption, which now applies only to sport pilots, to noncommercial VFR flights in aircraft weighing up to 6,000 pounds with no more than six seats, AOPA said. Pilots would be allowed to carry up to five passengers, and would be restricted to altitudes below 14,000 feet msl and airspeeds no faster than 250 knots. The FAA would be required to report on the safety consequences of the new rule after five years.

AOPA and EAA petitioned the FAA in 2012 to expand the third-class medical exemption. More than 16,000 overwhelmingly favorable comments were filed on that petition during the public comment period. Expanding the medical exemption to GA aircraft operating for recreational purposes "makes sense from both a practical and safety standpoint," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kans., one of the sponsors of the bill. "The FAA has had two years to review this request for an exemption," he added. "Let's get this thing moving." In the House, 52 co-sponsors have signed on to the bill, AOPA said.

Tuesday evening, EAA chairman Jack Pelton said he was glad to see the bill advance.†"We appreciate the senators' attention and action on this issue that has negatively affected many pilots," he said. "It is time to use the positive safety experience gained from a decade of sport pilot activity -- as well as such flying activities as gliders and ballooning -- to establish medical certification reforms that will sustain and grow general aviation in this country."


A 26-year-old California man has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for pointing a laser at a police helicopter that was responding to a report of his previous attack on a medevac helicopter. Defense lawyers argued Sergio Patrick Rodriquez, of Clovis in central California, was just goofing around with his kids when he shined the laser at the aircraft. Prosecutors argued he did it on purpose. "This is not a game," U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner is quoted by The Associated Press as saying. "It is dangerous and it is a felony." Rodriquez's girlfriend, 23-year-old Jennifer Coleman, has also been convicted of felony charges and could end up in jail for five years when she is sentenced in May.

The Air Line Pilots Association applauded the stiff sentence, noting that emergency responders are more vulnerable to laser attacks because they fly at low altitudes. ďALPA applauds the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), The Eastern District of California U.S. District Court, and the Clovis and Fresno Police Departments for their vigilance in the investigation and conviction of this case," the union said in a news release. "ALPA has collaborated with the FBI and local law enforcement to launch a nationwide campaign that raises awareness about the severity of illegal laser attacks on aircraft." There were 3,960 reported incidents of laser attacks on aircraft in 2013.

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A Malaysia Airlines 777, via Wikimedia

The 777 that has been missing since Saturday may have changed course†after communications were lost†and flown for hundreds of miles to the west, across Malaysia and over the Strait of Mallacca, according to a Malaysian official who said "signals" had been detected, The New York Times reported on Tuesday. The Times said those reports were later contradicted by other officials, and it remains unclear if there was any deliberate diversion from the aircraft's expected flight path.

Also on Tuesday, officials from Interpol said their investigation found no terrorist ties for the individuals using stolen passports, who apparently were attempting to travel illegally for personal and economic reasons.

image: BBC

Monday morning, officials said the oil slicks that were spotted Sunday near the flight route of the Malaysia Airlines 777 that went missing over the weekend are not from that airplane. Samples of the oil were collected and analyzed and were not jet fuel. Officials said they are expanding the search area for the missing airplane, but will still focus on the Gulf of Thailand, between Malaysia and Vietnam. About three dozen aircraft and 40 ships have been participating in the search. Several bits of debris that were spotted afloat also were retrieved and none have been related to the lost aircraft. Chinese officials said they have adjusted the operations of some orbiting satellites to provide better coverage of area surrounding the last known location of the jet.

China also has sent a team of 10 officials to Malaysia to assist in the investigation and provide support to the families of those lost.†The NTSB sent a team of investigators to Asia, including technical advisers from Boeing and the FAA, to be ready to assist as needed. The 777 went missing on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing about 1:30 a.m. Saturday local time, about an hour after departure, with 229 passengers and 12 crew on board. No weather problems were reported in the area. On Monday, the BBC published a detailed summary of the ongoing search operation, based on a media briefing by local officials. †

A company called DigitalGlobe is working to host satellite images online in an effort to organize volunteers to help search for clues. As of Tuesday night, the effort was not yet functional.


Hersman at Oshkosh 2012

After nearly 10 years at the NTSB, chairman Deborah Hersman is leaving to take a job as president of The National Safety Council, she announced on Tuesday. "It has been an honor to be associated with a noble mission that has at times inspired and evoked passion and at other times, been in the crosshairs of controversy, as real change doesnít come without a cost," Hersman wrote in a blog post at the NTSB website.†

Hersman has been a highly visible player in the aviation world, participating in forums at EAA†AirVenture, and taking on a wide variety of aviation issues, including pilot fatigue after the†Colgan Air crash, air racing after the†Reno crash†that killed a pilot and 10 spectators, and†homebuilt safety.†She was on-scene for more than 20 accident investigations, including the Asiana Airlines crash last summer. The NTSB response to the Asiana crash drew some protest from the Air Line Pilots Association, which said too much information was released too soon.†

"I look back at the hundreds of investigations and recommendations that have been issued during my tenure at the NTSB, and I have seen the landscape of transportation safety improve before my eyes," Hersman wrote. She cited changes in work schedules for pilots that allow for more rest opportunities as one of the achievements during her tenure. "The NTSB and often, the families of victims, have served as critical catalysts for bringing about change after a terrible accident," she wrote. She said leading the NTSB has been a "dream job" for her. "If you are really lucky, you get to have more than one dream job. I look forward to continuing to improve the safety landscape with the board of directors and employees of the National Safety Council."†Hersman was named chairman of the safety board in 2009. She will depart April 25, and vice chairman Christopher Hart will serve as acting chairman.†

By Tuesday evening, many of the aviation alphabet groups had responded to the news of her departure. "We appreciate Ms. Hersmanís dedication to promoting safety in all aspects of aviation and her willingness to listen to the concerns and recommendations of the general aviation community," said AOPA President Mark Baker. "We thank her for her professionalism, her fair-mindedness and her continuing readiness to maintain an open dialogue with NBAA and the industry, and we wish her well in her new role," said NBAA President Ed Bolen.†"Chairman†Hersman†has been an extraordinary leader on aviation safety issues," NATCA said in a statement. "We will miss her."

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Women in Aviation, International held its 25th annual conference last week in Florida, and drew a record crowd of more than 4,500, the group said on Monday. A variety of educational sessions were offered over the three-day event in Lake Buena Vista, and nearly $500,000 in scholarships was awarded to 86 WAI members. Recruiters from a variety of companies held job interviews, and 250 girls, ages 10 to 17, took part in Daughter Day on Saturday. "This was our biggest Daughter Day by far," said WAI president Peggy Chabrian. The girls learned how to read a sectional chart, flew in a simulator, and attended a college fair and career panel.

Four women were inducted into WAI's International Pioneer Hall of Fame during the conference -- Nancy Currie, NASA astronaut and mission specialist on the International Space Station; Beryl Markham, author of aviation classic West with the Night; Sally Ride, NASA astronaut and first U.S. woman in space; and Sheila Scott, a British pilot with more than 100 records, trophies and awards. ďOur Pioneer Hall of Fame allows our members to learn about Ė and sometimes even meet Ė women who have made significant contributions to aviation and helped open doors for them,Ē said Chabrian. ďAlong with the presence of WASP at our conference, we make certain to recognize and honor our past.Ē Next year's conference is set for March 5 - 7 in Dallas, Texas.


Embry Riddle Aeronautical University is offering a free massive open online course, or MOOC, at its website starting April 7. The five-week course, "The Human Factor in Aviation," is only the second such course to be offered by the school. The course will be taught by Asst. Prof. Dennis Vincenzi, of the Department of Aeronautics at ERAU Worldwide. He has more than 16 years of human-factors experience in a range of disciplines including training and simulation interface design. The course will explore how psychological or physiological elements, such as pilot fatigue or a mechanicís complacency, can contribute to aviation accidents.

Students who complete the MOOC will receive a certificate, but they do not receive college credit from ERAU. The course will provide†video lectures, many reading materials, live Q&A with the professor, online peer-to-peer discussions and Twitter conversations. Each student is free to participate as they choose. The course could be useful to high school students, aviation professionals, ERAU students and others, the university said. Online registration is open now, and enrollment is capped at 2,000. The university said more free online courses in aviation and aerospace will be offered online in the coming months.


screenshot: PBS NewsHour

PBS science correspondent and aviation reporter Miles O'Brien lost most of his left arm recently after a freak accident while on assignment in the Philippines, but last week he was back at work and making plans to fly again. In an interview with Judy Woodruff, O'Brien said he has already spoken to doctors about the options for prosthetics. "I was at the National Rehabilitation Hospital the other day," he told Woodruff, "and I said, I really like to ride my bike. I like to fly airplanes. And I want to be able to get back to shooting video. Those are my three big criteria. They were like, 'Oh, no problem. We have attachments for all of that.' Itís like Inspector Gadget or something. And so part of my science and technology mind as a reporter is thinking, this is kind of interesting, how all this works."

O'Brien wrote in his blog that he dropped a heavy camera case on the arm while traveling last month, and by the next day, the pain and bruising convinced him to see a doctor. He was sent to emergency surgery, hoping the arm could be repaired, but woke to found it was gone. O'Brien told Woodruff that sadly, the technology for amputees has advanced in recent years because of the many soldiers returning from wars abroad with lost limbs. "But I, fortunately, will benefit from some of that technology," he said. O'Brien worked for CNN for 17 years, where he covered the space shuttle program and the X Prize competition, and he reported in depth on the Colgan Air crash for PBS. He spoke with AVweb about his work as an aviation reporter in a 2009 podcast.

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I never thought Iíd say this, but I think Iím becoming more sympathetic to people who donít like airplane noise. And Iím not talking about fly-over noiseóthatís transient and it at least affords the option of momentarily looking up to see whatís making it. I like that kind.

Iím talking about airport ground noise; the grindingly long run-up at full power or the incessant whine of an APU thatís been on for about 30 minutes too long to keep the bossís drinks chilled. I noticed this the other day at Centennial Airport near Denver. Rick Durden and I were shooting video in a hangar not too far from one of the run-up areas. During camera setup, I was vaguely conscious of a rising irritation from hearing two or three airplanes at run-up power for what like seemed like 10 minutes each, but was probably more like four minutes. And thatís probably three minutes and 30 seconds longer than a run-up needs to be.

I think I know whatís going on, too. Because weíve come to equate procedure with safety and checklists with procedure, I think pilots are being taught to use the cookbook method when doing a run-up. Set throttle at 1700 RPM. Check. Lose place on checklist, find it again, check oil pressure and charge rate. Check. Lose place again. Perform mag check and so on. So the engine screeches along at high power, making noise and wasting fuel while providing the pilot no discernibly useful information about the pending flight.

For a while there, maybe in the late 1990s, flow methods were popular and thatís what I taught. Flow over to the throttle, set it at 1700 RPM, flow the engine instruments, check the mags, cycle the prop and set the throttle to quiet again. Twenty seconds, tops. Then run the checklist to make sure you didnít miss anything. This is the single-pilot version of challenge/response.

I think the checklist and training industry has made this kind of sensible approach obsolete, aided and abetted by large cockpit displaysóor tablets--that can readily list even more checklist items. And, well, shoot, we all know the more stuff on your checklist, the safer you are. I swear, I think I remember seeing one that mentioned the pilotís meds and sort of asked you if you were feeling all right. Got clean underwear on? Hey, you never know.

At my home airport, they address the annoying ground noise problem with a run-up pad on an old closed runway in the center of the field. Makes sense. I generally donít use it because the Cubís brakes arenít effective enough to do a static run-up, so I do a rolling run-up on the departure runway. I doubt if anyone hears a thing. But in a loud airplane, I do use the mid-field pad, just as requested.

I wonder if instructors ought to think through how they teach new pilots run-up procedures, not just for noise, but for the sake of wear and tear on the airplane and common sense. While weíre at it, let's think about not punching the prop control forward on downwind and treating everyone to the howl that creates. Iím pretty sure Iím not the only old crank around the airport who could do with a little less pointless noise. We should consider each other as much as we consider the airport neighbors.

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