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Aerion, which has been working on a supersonic bizjet for almost a decade, has gone back to the drawing board to deliver what it says customers want: a $100 million-plus big cabin jet that goes 5,000 nm at Mach 1.4. “The message from many of today’s long-range business jet operators is very clear: They want a supersonic jet sooner rather than later; a cabin comparable in comfort to today’s long-range jets; a range of 5,000 nm or better; and they are willing to pay more than $100 million for such an aircraft. That is the supersonic jet we are working to deliver,” said Aerion CEO Doug Nichols.

The revised design has three engines and is 160 feet long, 30 feet longer than a Boeing 737-800 and only 40 feet shorter than the Concorde. The cabin will be 30 feet long with two compartments, two lavs, a galley and a 98-inch ceiling. Operators wanting to stretch the legs of the aircraft will need 7,500 feet of pavement to get started but Aerion said a hop across the country or the Atlantic should only require Teterboro-style 5,000-6,000-foot runways. The new design is already in wind tunnel testing and Aerion says it's going to finance the development program itself.

Geneva isn't exactly the Wild West but the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE) is witnessing a range war. Dassault and Gulfstream both introduced longer-legged versions of their flagship aircraft at the show, which continues until Thursday at the PalExpo convention facility at the Geneva Airport. Gulfstream says its G650ER (extended range) will go 500 miles farther on a tank of gas than its already capable predecessor. "It's the only business aircraft in the world capable of traveling 7,500 nautical miles," Gulfstream VP Scott Neal said in a written statement. Dassault says its new Falcon 8X will go from Moscow to London and have "the highest level of customization" of the large-cabin crowd.

The announcements highlight the well-established fact that the high end of the bizjet market is robust and growing and the very rich want as much capability as the engineers can squeeze out of the airframes. Gulfstream says its extra range comes from improvements to the 650's Rolls Royce engines. Dassault is putting a more efficient wing and improved Pratt & Whitney Canada engines on the 8X to make it "more fuel efficient than any other aircraft in the ultra-long range segment" by 35 percent. The Gulfstream will cost $65.5 million and the Falcon $57 million.

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The FAA is urging those who didn't make it in its latest air traffic control recruitment to try again. In a statement to AVweb (PDF) it also says it plans to make "further improvements" to the controversial new hiring protocol. However, it doesn't appear to be considering going back to the old system. As we reported on Monday, the new system, which disregards education and relevant experience in the initial selection process for ATC candidates and instead relies solely on the answers given to a "biographical questionnaire," has upset educational institutions that have, until this year, been a pipeline for new controllers and the 2014 graduates of those air traffic control courses. The agency says it's heard the "feedback from members of Congress and the public we continue to evaluate our recruitment and applicant assessment process" and denies that the changes to the system by an agenda to attract a more diverse range of candidates.

 "The new hiring process is blind on the issue of diversity, from start to finish, meaning we do not know the diversity of our candidates until they are hired," the agency said. Most of the complaints arose because the agency abandoned its former practice of letting qualified applicants know they were in an inventory of "qualified  candidates" and instead only chose those who rose to the top. "The selection process for new air traffic controllers was very competitive," the agency said. "In the course of two weeks, we received over 28,000 applications for 1,700 positions."  The FAA will hire 6,600 controllers over the next five years.

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The FAA has approved an alternative method of compliance (AMOC) for owners of some aircraft grounded in a sweeping AD involving Superior Air Parts aftermarket cylinders. It particularly relates to a section of the AD requiring replacement of the cylinders 12 years after installation regardless of condition or the number of hours on them. “Under the guidelines of this new Global AMOC, owners of aircraft who have over 12 years on their affected Millennium Cylinders, but have not yet reached TBO, will be able to alternately comply with the AD through ongoing inspections of their cylinders,” Superior General Manager Ken Chatten said. “These tests include visual inspection, compression check, leak check, and a borescope inspection every 50 flight hours or during an annual. Whichever comes first.”

The AMOC could extend the life of the cylinders by up to five years until the already established 17-year time-in-service limit provided they pass all the inspections and checks. Chatten said the 12-year rule imposed in April through the update of an earlier AD could have grounded 1,000 airplanes. “We estimate that by approving our Global AMOC procedures, the FAA has safely eased a considerable immediate financial burden," he said. Chatten also credited AOPA and the FAA for working out a solution. “We will continue to work with the FAA and AOPA to find ways to reduce the burden of this AD on aircraft owners,” Chatten said.

The Lear 60 is a fast, affordable business jet.  But like most airplanes, it could do well with additional baggage space.  Raisbeck Engineering, a well-known STC house, has developed just such a product.  AVweb takes a look at it in this brief product video.

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To answer today’s burning question—and burning is probably an understatement—you need to watch this video. It’s quite engaging. Click back when you’re done; I’ll wait.

So the question is, does the FAA have a compelling responsibility to protect the public from potential harm that could accrue from such filming using small UAVs? Should the agency prohibit or at the least regulate such activities?

The film in question is the much-celebrated Raphael Pirker video at the University of Virginia. The FAA enforced against Pirker and levied a $10,000 fine, claiming he violated FAR 91.13, the careless or reckless catchall. Although it wasn’t relevant to the official legal proceeding, the FAA’s 2007 policy statement that differentiated commercial use of small UAVs from model aircraft flying was often mentioned in news coverage. The FAA pointedly does not regulate model aircraft.

An NSTB administrative law judge invalidated the fine against Pirker and tossed the case, explaining that the FAA overreached and has no authority to regulate small UAVs, much less levy fines. Pirker’s lawyer, Brendan Schulman, points out that the 2007 FAA policy statement declaring commercial use of drones illegal has no weight, since the agency failed to follow its own stringent rulemaking process. The FAA has appealed the 91.13 jurisdictional portion of the case

But to hear Jim Williams tell it, the agency hasn’t been dissuaded from further enforcement in the slightest. Williams heads the FAA’s UAS office and he spoke this week before a crowd of industry manufacturers, operators and suppliers at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference in Orlando. Williams said—rightly, I think—that small UAS represent some risk to the public. In support of his case, he showed a video of an incident in Virginia in which a quadricopter lost control and crashed into a crowd, injuring one person. It was unclear how seriously. He flashed another slide of an incident that occurred in March of this year when a USAirways regional jet on approach to Tallahassee reported a near-collision with a UAV of some type. No UAV was ever identified, nor was an operator found. Williams was speaking to a skeptical crowd and my guess is he wasn’t too convincing.

I tried to put on my objective journalist hat to decide whether those two incidents and a third one in Australia represent the clear and present danger that Williams claims requires the FAA to protect the unsuspecting public from wild-eyed drone operators. I remain profoundly unconvinced, while accepting his underlying notion that these systems do represent some risk to people and property on the ground and to manned aircraft.

Officially, the AUVSI (and the FAA) punts on the small UAS issue, referring to voluntary guidelines (PDF) published by the Academy of Model Aeronautics. AUVSI’s hard push is for integrating larger UAS into the national airspace safely and legally. For small UAS, it has been encouraging specific interests to negotiate directly with the FAA. These include the agriculture and film industries and companies that inspect power and pipelines. AUVSI is concerned that small UAS operators will go rogue and soil the entire industry with a bad rep, a legitimate worry.

Ignoring the FAA’s overreach, was Pirker in compliance with the published AMA guidelines? I’d say not entirely, but that doesn’t make his flight careless or reckless. He obtained permission from the university, prepped carefully to the extent of even closing streets and his aircraft was a small, light Styrofoam (aka a "foamie") design of minimal weight and injury-causing potential. I thought Williams disingenuously harmed his cred before the AUVSI audience by not mentioning any of this. Flying under a pedestrian bridge sounds insanely reckless, but with a five-pound Styrofoam model? Would it be just as reckless to toss a Frisbee through the same airspace? And the AMA guidelines could use some revisions to keep pace both with the technology and what operators are actually doing with these aircraft, including commercial potential.

As pilots, we most certainly have a dog in this fight. A veritable explosion of small, low-altitude unmanned aircraft is just over the horizon and irrespective of whether we want them buzzing around our neighborhoods, we have an interest in how they’re operated around airports. This is not something we can’t or shouldn’t be thinking about.

All technologies have a risk-reward ratio. I’m quite certain more people have been killed or injured in cellphone-related traffic accidents just this week than have ever been or are ever likely to be injured by small camera drones. Cellphones have clear benefits; UAS camera platforms do, too, albeit not nearly as pervasive. At least so far. Part of the FAA’s job is to protect the public from unreasonable risk from things that fly. It is not to construct an impenetrable womb around every living man, woman and child. And that’s another way of saying we live in a world in which the unsuspecting and uninvolved public can’t be protected against every conceivable risk, whether outdoors, at schools, sporting events or in the mall parking lot. That’s the price of progress; get used to it.

If I learned anything at the AUVSI event, it’s this: many of us in general aviation are clueless about the extent of what’s coming. We need to have opinions on this.

What’s yours?

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At the AUVSI in Orlando on Monday, I ran into my old friend Jon Doolittle, long-time pilot and aviation insurance broker. I shouldn’t have been surprised that he’s branched out and started selling insurance for UAVs. Of course, the underwriters are baffled about what to charge for such coverage because there’s no loss history worth mentioning, thus no risk profile worthy of the name. Give it time…

Both of us got a good laugh at one thing that’s excruciatingly obvious about this show: It reveals how cynical and beat down those of us who have been plying the troubled waters of general aviation have become. Jon and I could both be described as hard-bitten, hollow-eyed veterans of an industry that has been in steady decline for as long as any of us can remember. But the drone crowd is different. Way different. For one thing, at every turn, it has been infused with defense and homeland security investment. For another, unburdened by FAA certification rules in any meaningful way, its technical achievements come fast and furious. Third, the market applications are sharply ascendant with new proposals and ideas occurring at the rate of one a minute. It wasn’t lost on me that AUVSI set aside one large room with comfortable couches and coffee expressly for the purpose of idea exchange.  Go forth and network.

This gives the entire enterprise a buoyant, optimistic energy of the sort we haven’t seen in GA since, oh, I dunno, the day after Lindbergh landed in Paris. It’s infectious but also oddly virginal, unspoiled by the forces of doom. And that, of course, will be the FAA, whose ability—or inability--to rapidly develop workable rules for UAS hangs like a cloud over the entire industry. But here’s the interesting part: Most of the people in this industry aren’t pilots, they’re techies coming out of the defense, IT and computer industries. Their view of product and service development is unhindered by the slow-leak hell of modern certification.

As a result, some tend to view the FAA as a friendly agency who’s in their court, diligently working to develop rules that will allow the industry to flourish. If that sounds like naiveté unblemished by the reality of actually having to deal with FAA’s sclerotic, bloated bureaucracy, it probably is. But from talking to people on the show floor, I have to admit that it’s not a universal sentiment. The scales are slowly being removed from their eyes.

All of us in GA have seen FAA execs venture into the field and show a clear understanding of the issues that effect the industry and to a man or woman, they express a sincere desire to rapidly and favorably address same to the benefit of all. And despite what we all may think, many actually try to do this. But when these realizations are taken back to the hive at 800 Independence, things change: turf and political battles intervene, Congress meddles, budgets are slashed and then it’s delay, delay, delay. And so it was that Jim Williams, head of the FAA’s UAS office, said rules for small unmanned systems will be delayed and it’s likely to be at least another two years before they appear. For larger UAS, it will be longer than that.

I’m tempted to go all Pollyanna here and say it will be different with the much-needed UAS rulemaking. But at an early age, the nuns taught me to resist temptation so I’m going to guess it won’t be much different for the budding UAS industry except in one way: I predict the FAA is going to see more and more under-the-radar commercial use of small drones and it’s going to find itself in more and more enforcement actions like the much talked-about Pirker case.

But Williams struck an almost defiant tone at AUVSI. Despite the court case that told the FAA it doesn’t have the authority to regulate small drones at low altitude, Williams says the agency owns all the airspace from the surface up. And it will continue to enforce against unauthorized commercial use of small UAS.

My gut feel is that the FAA is fighting a losing battle here, using outdated, slow moving rulemaking processes that don’t accommodate an industry that’s moving at the speed of light. GA is a turtle—and a sick one at that—the UAS industry is a cheetah. In the seven years the agency says it will take to develop rules for major systems, this industry will likely reinvent itself several times over. I’m quite certain the smarter people in the FAA see this. They absolutely get it. I just doubt they have the ability to respond to it quickly. Meanwhile, watch the rest of the world outstrip the U.S. in applications of this technology.

What to Call These Things?

I don’t know about the rest of the press, but the terminology in this industry gives me heartburn. I don’t like to call them drones because the connotation isn’t precisely right. Some people in the industry use the term, but most don’t. It’s analogous to calling flight data recorders black boxes, a term that’s entirely an invention of the press. No one in the industry actually uses it.

So I’ve taken to using the terms UAS or UAV. UAS—unmanned aircraft system(s)—is the umbrella term while UAV—unmanned aerial vehicle—can apply to aircraft in the singular. Or the plural. I throw an occasional drone in there for variety, but I’m fighting the urge. Drones are either male honeybees or objects used as targets. UAVs are neither.

How’s This For Irony?

Looking over the show press guidelines, I noticed a provision that said journalists couldn’t use video cameras or lighting systems on the floor. Really? That’s a first. When I checked with the show press office, they said I could shoot what I wanted, but clear it with the subjects because some don’t like to have their pictures taken.

That’s rich. Here’s an entire industry devoted to snooping and invasion of privacy, but they’re wall flowers when the camera is turned their way? It turned out to be a non-issue.

Best UAV Ever!

Except, you guessed it, they call it a drone. A French company called Parrot made a surprise showing with a consumer-grade UAV they call the Bebop Drone. In a vast hall full of serious military and would-be commercial spying and survey apparatus, this little gadget was a welcome bit of fun.

It’s basically a flying camera—1080p and 14mp with a wide fisheye lens—using a quadricopter platform. It has its own wireless node and that allows it to livestream video to a tablet, which also serves as the control device. There’s an optional dedicated control unit that incorporates a tablet for real-time viewing of streamed video. It has a more powerful wireless network. The Bebop can also be used with FPV glasses. But here’s the killer feature: The Bebop’s camera is electronically, not mechanical gyro, stabilized. That’s quite a kick for a consumer gadget that flies.

Parrot says the Bebop will ship by the end of the year. They declined to put a price on it, but Parrot’s previous product, the AR.Drone, sold for about $300. So take your guess on what this one will cost. I’m getting one no matter what.

No Tire Kickers

Attendance wise, AUVSI is a small show with a lot of exhibitors, drawing 6000 to 8000 participants for what’s essentially a four-day event. Dilettantes need not apply. Full-up admission is between $859 and $1109 and a hall pass alone costs between $100 and $300.

I didn’t hear any complaints about the gate fee, however, because this crowd is as serious and purposeful as any I’ve seen anywhere in aviation, including NBAA. As with all shows, it’s international, but much younger than any GA show and few of the people I spoke to had any general aviation knowledge or involvement. UAVs are their thing. But once the FAA is done with them, they’ll be forced marched into the ranks of general aviation and I suspect there will be inevitable cross pollination. One way or another, UAVs are in our future.

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Recently, the FAA changed how it recruits candidates for ATC positions, focusing on hiring candidates from its FAA Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) program. This may seem logical, but the devil is in the details. Historically, candidates for AT-CTI program were evaluated on their work and educational experience directly related to ATC job functions, but this is no longer the case. Candidates for the AT-CTI program are now selected on much simpler factors. These include whether they have three years of work experience (any, not necessarily related to ATC or even aviation jobs), can they speak English and on their completion of a "biographical" survey.

Candidates who historically would have been given credit toward selection based on ATC-related experience or degrees from aviation colleges are now on the same footing as someone who worked for three years at a fast food restaurant. In essence, experience doesn't seem to matter anymore.  Candidates go into a virtual lottery and their biographical survey is the selection process. And it appears that candidates who are scoring very high on the historical measures for competency (the AT-SAT test) are not getting past the biographical survey. Competency doesn't seem to be the measure here.

The result is that candidates who are academically qualified aren't getting selected for the FAA AT-CTI program and it appears the washout rate since this change in hiring practices is increasing rapidly, at the taxpayer's expense, in my view. Candidates who had previously completed collegiate training programs at their own expense are now finding themselves unqualified based on the biographical survey, leaving their personal investment in training wasted and the cost to train candidates who passed the biographical survey but have no aviation background to be trained by the FAA at taxpayer’s expense.

This seems backward to me. Estimates of the value of collegiate training programs providing ATC training suggest that it has saved tens of millions of dollars in the past, but apparently we are throwing that away now. In effect, this makes  all of the degree programs offered by collegiate programs null and void. Why would I bother to do a degree in a program that won't make any difference in whether I get hired?

In the FAA's document "A Plan for the Future: 10-Year Strategy for the Air Traffic Control Workforce 2012-2021" (PDF), the FAA notes that, "Deploying a well-trained and well-staffed air traffic control workforce plays an essential role..." It is just my opinion, but I have to think hiring candidates who have already had a background of training from colleges or universities with long standing aviation-related air traffic control programs goes a long way toward fulfilling this goal.

The hiring process portion of the FAA document indicates three major categories of hiring sources. Previous controllers; Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) students and, last, the general public. These are specifically identified as individuals who are not required to have prior air traffic control experience. These, however, are the same applicants who are offered an opportunity to enter the FAA AT-CTI training program. This is where the problem begins.

It appears that applicants from the general public are given the same consideration as applicants who have formal collegiate training in ATC degree programs. In essence, an applicant to the FAA's AT-CTI training program who has no ATC-related training (but has three years work experience at any job) and an applicant who has a degree in air traffic control will be given the same chance at being hired. The selection factor that’s then applied is based on a biographical survey the applicants complete, not their applicable training background or skill set they bring to the job.

I can't help but be concerned that the changes in this selection process will bring negative effects to our aviation infrastructure. Candidates who were previously motivated to seek out and pay for their own training to become the best-qualified candidates for the FAA AT-CTI  program completion have lost that motivation. Their investment in this type of training only to hope they make it through a biographical survey would be a big gamble. The result is that we will get applicants from the general public with little or no relevant educational background. The lowest common denominator will get through. I don't think I want the lowest common denominator controlling the aircraft in our nation's airspace. And I don't think I want us spending taxpayer dollars on a program that has a high washout rate because it didn't select the most qualified candidates to begin with. 

Jason Blair is an active FAA Designated Pilot Examiner and CFI who consults on aviation training and regulatory efforts for general aviation companies.

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In Japan, remotely piloted helicopters made by Yamaha are a common sight and have been for more than 15 years.  Now the company wants to move into the U.S. market with a new model called the FAZER.  Yamaha's Steve Markofski gave AVweb a briefing on this new UAV at the AUVSI show in Orlando this week.

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The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International opened its annual conference and show this week in Orlando.  AVweb was there and spoke to AVUSI president Michael Toscano about the state of the industry.

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Epic hopes to begin deliveries of its E1000, the certified version of the LT owner-built aircraft, in 2015.  AVweb and Aviation Consumer's Rick Durden toured the plant in Bend, Oregon and flew an LT.