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The FAA ordered U.S. airlines to stop all flights to Tel Aviv until Wednesday afternoon after a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip landed within a mile of Ben Gurion Airport Tuesday. Airlines in other countries followed suit and some say they have suspended flights indefinitely. However, the Israeli government is urging the governments and airlines to reconsider, saying its Iron Dome missile defense system is working and inviting officials from other countries, especially the U.S., to review security measures at the airport.

Meanwhile, it's business as usual for El Al, and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced he was hopping the Tuesday flight in a show of solidarity for Israel. He said the flight ban by the U.S. played into the hands of Hamas, which has been locked in a bitter conflict with Israel for two weeks and fired more than 200 rockets at Israeli territory. "This evening I will be flying on El Al to Tel Aviv to show solidarity with the Israeli people and to demonstrate that it is safe to fly in and out of Israel," Bloomberg said in a statement. "Ben Gurion is the best protected airport in the world and El Al flights have been regularly flying in and out of it safely. The flight restrictions are a mistake that hands Hamas an undeserved victory and should be lifted immediately. I strongly urge the FAA to reverse course and permit US airlines to fly to Israel."


Wikimedia file photo

After several days of confusion during which no authority appeared to be in charge of the wreckage, Ukrainian rebels have agreed to deliver the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder from Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 to the government of Malaysia, officials said on Monday. "Independent international investigators will be guaranteed safe access to the crash site to begin a full investigation of the incident," said Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. The human remains that have been recovered will be delivered to forensic investigators in the Netherlands and later flown back to Malaysia. Meanwhile, some analysts say the airline may not be able to survive the unprecedented loss of two aircraft in less than five months.

The airline, which is publicly traded, may decide to go private or may file for bankruptcy, according to a recent analysis in Bloomberg News. The airline had been ready to order about 100 jets from Airbus and Boeing before MH370 went missing, according to Bloomberg. Those plans are now under review. Also on Monday, the Air Line Pilots Association International said the crash investigation should be turned over to the International Civil Aviation Organization. "ICAO representatives in the field should be given full access to all recorded information from the aircraft, including flight data recorders, maintenance recorders, and other recorded data from aircraft systems," said ALPA's statement. ICAO said last week it would send a team to assist the Government of Ukraine with the accident investigation. The 777 crashed after apparently being hit by a missile launched from the ground on Thursday; all 298 people on board were killed. In March, MH370 disappeared somewhere above the South Pacific Ocean, with 241 on board. The search for wreckage is ongoing.

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Every other aviation cohort has some kind of association -- from Ercoupe owners to airline pilots -- so it's no surprise that a new group has launched this week for those who fly unmanned aerial systems. The new Drone Pilots Association aims to promote the interests of those who are interested in commercial use of UAS. "The†DPA†is not intended to represent pure†hobbyists, who have long†been†represented†by the Academy of Model Aeronautics," wrote Peter Sachs, who organized the new group. "If you are strictly a hobbyist, join the AMA." Sachs said the new group's goal is to promote the commercial use of drones and oppose "the FAA's overreach, its false statements regarding the law and its intimidation tactics."

Sachs, an attorney who works as a private investigator, writes a blog called Drone Law Journal. John Goglia, a former NTSB member who blogs for Forbes, wrote this week that he is on the Advisory Board for the new group. Goglia said he believes "the FAA could safely allow the commercial use of small UAVs (for example, those under five pounds)" so the U.S. could benefit from "the commercial promise of this exciting new technology." Sachs said there is no charge to join the DPA; however, he expects membership fees will be set in the future. "We†all want the ability to operate commercially, and we all want to operate safely and responsibly while doing so," he wrote. "Let's combine our voices using†the DPA and see what we can do to reach those goals. If enough members sign up, we will then raise funds to mount a challenge to the FAA's Interpretive Rule."


image: WBZ Boston

A JetBlue pilot was among six people arrested on drug charges Sunday in Boston. Police said they were watching an area near Boston Common after residents filed complaints about drug dealing, and on Sunday evening around 6 p.m. they saw what they believed to be drug transactions in the area, according to the Boston Globe. John Manwaring, 42, of Maitland, Fla., was arrested and charged with possession of heroin. He pleaded not guilty in court on Monday and was released. He's due to appear back in court next month. Jet Blue told the Globe that Manwaring had been removed from duty "pending the outcome of this investigation."

The airline also said, in a statement: "All pilots are drug tested; all crewmembers must receive a negative drug test before they are offered employment with JetBlue and we adhere to the FAA-approved random drug and alcohol testing program." The company also said it has a no-tolerance policy. In a statement to police, according to the Boston Herald, Manwaring said he was just looking for sex and the woman he was with, who has a record of arrests and convictions for prostitution, bought the drugs. The police said they found a packet of "tan powder believed to be heroin" in Manwaring's pocket, according to the Herald. Manwaring had flown into Boston at noon on Sunday and was scheduled to fly out of Logan at 7:30 Monday morning. It was unclear if he had been or was scheduled to be part of the crew on either of those flights.

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A former Concorde captain is auctioning off his store of aviation memorabilia this week, in hopes of helping his daughter to pay off her loans for flight training. The items include cockpit instruments, a damaged engine blade, and a pitot tube from the nose of a Concorde jet. "When I retired from British Airways in 2004 I was very grateful to be given a number of items of Concorde equipment as a thank you," Mike Bannister, 65, told the Daily Mail. "I have also acquired other items from various sales over the years. Ö It is a natural circle of life that the money raised will go back into flying in the form of helping my daughter to be a commercial pilot." The auction will be held Friday in the U.K., but buyers also can register to bid online.

Not everything in Bannister's collection is Concorde-related. The 151 items include letters signed by Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh, photographs signed by U.S. and Russian astronauts, books, and other collectibles. Bannister first flew the Concorde in 1977 as a first officer, and was made captain in 1995. He crewed for the last-ever Concorde flight, in 2003, when the fleet was retired. He hopes to raise about $170,000 from the sale to help daughter Amy, age 20.

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In last weekís blog, I was bemoaning the fact that the FAAís avgas replacement effort had entered the dark phase and itís now impossible to find out much of anything about whatís going on behind closed doors. No one seemed to know anything about a company called Avgas LLC, which is one of five companies to have submitted fuel candidates.

The FAA was of no help and the PR office is now to the point that they donít bother to return queries.†Fortunately, the companyís principal, John Elling, contacted me last week. He gave me a general sketch of what they have in mind. Ellingís Avgas LLC is a tiny startup which is itself working with another startup called XF Technologies.

The company is developing a family of compounds called furoate esters for use as oxygenate blendstock in gasoline and diesel fuels. Think of them as an alternative or an enhancer for ethanol oxygenates and youíre in the ballpark. In fact, XF is pitching furoates as the next generation oxygenate. XF hopes to produce these compounds from cellulosic biomass sources. Elling told me furoate esters have good octane characteristics (and arenít a cetane depressant for diesel), are non-corrosive, hydrophobic and have good lubricity. In short, they look attractive as fuel additives.

XF has in mind producing its furoates from waste biomass using the kind of cellulosic processes that a number of companies are working at perfecting. And therein lies the snag. Although they pencil out well and potentially have attractive economics,†cellulosic processes havenít proven out yet in the real world, at least in terms of efficient production. They may get there, but they arenít quite ready to take on petrochemically produced additives or even traditional fermented ethanol which, as we all know, has its own problems.

Then thereís the question of what the base blendstock would be. Would it be traditional aviation alkylate, which starts with an octane rating in the low to mid 90s? Or would it be a conventional automotive premium blendstock? Elling says the company hasnít gotten that far yet. I sense that there's an assumption that whatever replaces leaded avgas will use aviation alkylate as the base blendstock. Thereís such a deep seated bias against motor gasolines for aviation use that I donít see them even getting any kind of serious consideration in the emerging PAFI process, no matter who proposes them. The non-alkylate exception is Swift Fuel, which is a binary composed of mesitylene and isopentane catalyzed from acetone. The acetone could source from biomass, too, but may be more likely to come from natural gas or traditional petrochemical sources.

To be blunt about it, itís difficult for me to see how fuels like this will make it through the first cut of the FAAís PAFI process. And sorry to say that probably applies to Swift Fuel, too. I just donít see how the mechanism the FAA and the industry has set up would be sensitive to innovation, even if it meant a 25 percent reduction in price. In fact, the PAFI structure seems likely to be completely insensitive to price; it appears structured to obtain a workable fuel with the fewest unknowns and easiest transition into the field. That may not be ideal, but it's not a crazy idea, either. And even though the FAA denies itís picking winners and losers, thatís exactly what itís doing, since itís applying P&L considerations to the selection process. Depending on how thatís weighted in the final decision, it wouldnít be unreasonable to believe that Shell and the consortium of BP, Total and Hjelmco have the inside track. Especially since ConocoPhillips, Exxon and Chevron arenít even in the game.

Too bad this PAFI thing isnít going on five years from now. By then, cellulosic technology may come into its ownóor sink in the tryingóand a truly innovative aviation fuel would have a chance. As it is now, whatever emerges will probably be the fuel that propels the industry into the smoking crater it seems headed for. Gotta hand it to GA; we're really good at finding objections to potentially less expensive solutions in the name of safety, regulatory inertia and good old (expensive) tradition.

Asiana/777 Follow

When I was talking to my friend, NTSB investigator Bill English, about the Asiana accident investigation, I was kidding him about having too few accidents to investigate. I boldly predicted he might just be able to coast into retirement with no more big accidents to handle.

A text I got from him on Thursday dispelled that notion. He was on his way to Ukraine to provide U.S. participation in the shootdown of MH 17. No oneís really sure what kind of a role the U.S. will have in the actual kicking of tin, although it clearly has a major role in whatís likely to be an intelligence-based crash investigation. Canít call it an accident, obviously. Mass murder would be more appropriate.

In any case, Bill was supposed to be at AirVenture next week to speak about Asiana. As of Sunday, those plans are uncertain. Iíll keep you posted.

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