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The standards organization ASTM says both the European Commission and European Aviation Safety Agency have endorsed a "global initiative to modernize the way smaller airplanes are certified." ASTM says the CS23/Part 23 Reorganization is a blueprint for the world's aviation authorities to bring their certification standards up to date and it was unveiled at meeting hosted by ASTM and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association in Brussels in September. "The purposes of the initiative are cutting the cost and increasing the safety of general aviation airplanes and technology," ASTM said in a news release. There was no mention of FAA endorsement in the release.

ASTM's Committee F44 on General Aviation Aircraft is developing the 16 basic standards that form the basis of the new regulatory regime. The thrust is to make it cheaper and easier for manufacturers to incorporate the latest technology, materials and processes in new aircraft. "As the European general aviation community looks for a better approach to regulation, the European Commission and the European Aviation Safety Agency have identified the work of ASTM F44 to be a key component in the revitalization of general aviation in Europe," said GAMA spokesman Gregory J. Bowles. It's hoped the initiative will lead to a global set of certification standards for light aircraft that is universally recognized by aviation authorities.

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Following a fire that knocked out ATC equipment at a facility in Aurora, Illinois, on Friday, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said on Monday the agency will conduct a 30-day review of its contingency plans and security protocols to be sure they address system efficiency as well as safety. "I do understand the traveling public's frustrations," Huerta said. More than 2,500 flights were cancelled over the weekend at Chicago's busy O'Hare and Midway hubs, according to USA Today. "The air transportation system is vital to our economy and people rely on it to function 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Huerta said. "I want to make sure that we have the most robust contingency plans possible." Also on Monday, The Associated Press reported more details about the incident that led to the fire.

The suspect, Brian Howard, 36, of Naperville, Illinois, entered the facility at about 5 a.m. on Friday, using a swipe card and carrying a suitcase, according to the AP. About 30 minutes later, he posted a suicide note on Facebook, according to a federal criminal complaint. Minutes later, someone at the ATC facility called 911 to report the fire, and a relative of the suspect, who saw the Facebook post, also alerted authorities. Paramedics found the suspect with cuts to his arms and throat, and they also found gas cans and a lighter, according to the AP. Howard, a contract worker, had worked at the facility for eight years, and recently had been told he was going to be transferred to Hawaii. He appeared in court on Monday where the felony charge of destruction of aircraft facilities was explained to him, but he did not enter a plea. He will be detained at a Chicago correctional center until his next court date.

In his speech at a meeting of the Air Traffic Control Association in Maryland, Huerta said the agency's contingency plans now in place focus on the safe handling of aircraft. "When a situation like a major outage occurs, our goal is to manage the aircraft in the air to ensure they reach their destinations safely," he said. "In the case of Friday's fire, the FAA worked quickly to handle aircraft traversing Chicago center's airspace and implemented its contingency plans to hand off airspace responsibilities to adjacent facilities. What suffers under these circumstances is the efficiency of the system we have come to depend on." Huerta said in consideration of the traveling public's frustrations and dependence on air transportation, he wants to review those plans to be sure "we are prepared to both assure the safety of aircraft but also the efficiency of the system."

The FAA has updated its policy on experimental-amateur built (E-AB) aircraft to allow pilots who build their own airplanes to bring along a qualified additional pilot on their initial test flights, EAA said on Monday. "This policy change comes after years of data suggesting that the most accidents in the E-AB fleet occur in aircraft during their first eight hours of operation," EAA said. "The majority of those accidents were related to pilot loss of control and were preventable." The new policy (PDF) should "drastically reduce" the number of such accidents, EAA said. The change is voluntary, and pilots still can fly on their own if they choose to.

"This is the first time that builders can get the best of both worlds: going airborne on the plane's first flights and having an experienced test pilot on board to add an additional layer of safety," said Tom Charpentier, EAA government advocacy specialist. "The APP [Additional Pilot Program] is a great example of a program that is a constructive response to safety data," Charpentier said. He said the change has "significant potential" to reduce the number of accidents during the initial flight-test phase. "We hope this will set the stage for additional positive reforms in the future," Charpentier added.

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The global parcel-delivery company DHL has received authorization to start regular drone delivery flights to an island in the North Sea about 7.5 miles off the coast of Germany. "This research project represents the first and only time in Europe that a flight by an unmanned aircraft will be operated outside of the pilot's field of vision in a real-life mission," said DHL in a news release. The DHL "parcelcopter" will primarily be used to transport medications at times when ferries and flights are not available. The UAS will take off from the harbor in Norddeich and land at a field reserved specifically for its operations. From there, a DHL courier will then deliver the parcel to the recipient.

"Our DHL parcelcopter 2.0 is already one of the safest and most reliable flight systems in its class that meets the requirements needed to fulfill such a mission," said Jurgen Gerdes, CEO of DHL's parcel division. "We are proud that this additional service can create added value for the residents of and visitors to the island of Juist and are pleased with the support we have received from the involved communities and agencies." To ensure that the DHL parcelcopter operates reliably, flies safely and always lands at the right location, an autopilot with automated takeoff and landing functions was developed. This system is robust and reliable, the company says, and has been extensively tested. At an altitude of 165 feet, the parcelcopter can travel at speeds up to about 40 knots.

The Airbus A350-900 XWB, which has been in the works for about eight years, was certified by EASA on Tuesday. FAA certification will follow soon, Airbus said. The "extra-wide-body" model can carry up to 440 passengers and eight cabin crew. "The A350 XWB embodies many extra innovative technologies which make all the difference in passenger comfort and airline efficiency," Airbus CEO Fabrice Brégier said in a statement released on Tuesday. Among the features in the new aircraft are a wide fuselage cross-section with panoramic windows, LED lighting, 18-inch-wide seats in coach, and a low cabin altitude. The jet is powered by two Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines. The first copy will enter service with Qatar Airways by the end of the year.

"The A350 XWB manufacturing program has also been innovative and ambitious, aiming for a fully mature aircraft at entry into service," said Bregier. "Our fleet of five test aircraft completed the certification campaign, on time, cost and quality. Accumulating more than 2,600 flight test hours, we created and successfully achieved one of the industry's most thorough and efficient test programs ever developed for a jetliner." Airbus spent about $15 billion to develop the clean-sheet design, according to Reuters. Airbus said it has more than 750 orders from 39 customers. The jet competes with Boeing's 787.

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After watching FAA administrator Michael Huerta interviewed on network news last night, I felt so much better. For all the administrators I've covered in some way, and that's about nine, he is absolutely the most skilled at giving polished, content-free answers and he doles these out not just to us ink-stained wretches in the GA press, but to national networks as well. How comforting it is to be an equal opportunity mushroom.

Recall at AirVenture in July, Huerta managed to piss off the entire Meet the Administrator crowd by dissembling and dodging reasonable questions about the Third Class medical. This week, he's non-answering about the security breach and sabotage at Chicago Center that brought a substantial share of the nation's air traffic to a grinding halt over the weekend. It's slowly getting back to normal, thanks to heroic efforts by the controller workforce.

The FAA caught a break in the news cycle on this because just as it was happening, The Washington Post revealed that another government agency, the Secret Service, significantly misled the public on the seriousness of the intruder who got into the White House 11 days ago. That will lead to some post haste grilling of Julia Pierson, who directs that agency. Personally, I think she should be shown the door. Thanks for your service, here's your watch.

Once that imbroglio cools, Huerta should get his turn. What's most maddening about this guy and the agency he directs is its lack of accountability. It rarely feels it owes the public an explanation for or of anything, thus when Huerta was asked by NBC what steps had been taken to improve security, he blithely said the Center processing rooms have "appropriate security." Well, evidently not, or we wouldn't be having this problem.

When Huerta goes before Congress, as I hope he will, he'll surely be asked about a GAO report in 2005 raising concerns about the vulnerability of FAA facilities to data security issues and sabotage. In 2011, the FAA's own inspector general (PDF) expressed shock that outsiders were allowed almost unrestricted access to Center processing facilities and/or their data feeds. "The sensitive information may provide a rogue employee or contractor sufficient understanding to identify and exploit weaknesses in the air traffic security structure," the audit said. It was referring to data processing not physical security, but a breach is a breach.

This is no trivial matter, either. Safety is a concern, of course, but the larger impact is economic. Multiple thousands of disrupted commercial flights ripple through not just the air traffic system, but the economy itself. Shipments are missed, mail is delayed, business appointments lost, fuel and time wasted trying to sort everything out and get back to normal, revenue is lost and people's lives are disrupted. No one in their right mind would, for a moment, suggest that the FAA is not keenly aware of all this. I would just like Michael Huerta, at least once, to utter a substantive sentence saying as much.

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