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The FAA does have the authority to apply its rule prohibiting careless and reckless flight to the operators of unmanned aircraft, the NTSB said on Tuesday. The safety board offered the opinion (PDF) in its review of the case of Raphael Pirker, who was fined $10,000 by the FAA for allegedly operating an unmanned aircraft in a "careless or reckless manner" in 2011. An NTSB administrative law judge had dismissed the fine in March, agreeing with Pirker that the drone was essentially a model aircraft and not subject to the FAA rule. The FAA appealed to the safety board. The board said it's now up to an administrative law judge to review the evidence and decide whether or not Pirker is guilty of a violation.

The case has been closely watched in the proliferating community of drone users and advocates who are eager to use the aircraft for aerial photography, farm inspections and other commercial uses. The FAA says Pirker, who was being paid to provide aerial photographs and video, piloted the unmanned aircraft -- a Ritewing Zephyr -- in a series of maneuvers around the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia, at altitudes from 10 feet AGL to 1,500 feet AGL, including flight "directly towards an individual standing on a . . . sidewalk causing the individual to take immediate evasive maneuvers … through a . . . tunnel containing moving vehicles … under a crane … [and] within approximately 100 feet of an active heliport." A video that purports to be from the disputed flight is posted on YouTube.

In a statement released Tuesday, the FAA said it is "pleased" with the NTSB decision. "The FAA believes Mr. Pirker operated a UAS in a careless or reckless manner, and that the proposed civil penalty should stand," the FAA said. "The agency looks forward to a factual determination by the Administrative Law Judge on the 'careless or reckless' nature of the operation in question." A corrected version of the FAA statement, released later on Tuesday, deletes the "pleased" remark, and instead notes that the FAA "has a responsibility to protect the safety of the American people in the air and on the ground."

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International also responded to the NTSB decision. "Safety is an important consideration in the integration of UAS into the National Airspace System," AUVSI said in a statement. "However, the ruling still leaves unanswered important questions about whether the FAA can prohibit commercial operations in the absence of UAS rules. The FAA needs to immediately move forward with its small UAS rulemaking to provide clarity for all users of the technology."

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Avionics sales dipped slightly in the third quarter of 2014 with total sales more than $614 million, according to statistics released by the Aircraft Electronics Association Tuesday. That's a 5-percent drop compared to the same period of 2013, which saw $646 million in sales. Total sales to date in 2014 topped $1.9 billion, up 2.7 percent from last year's $1.868 million. "While it is disappointing to see the third-quarter sales drop slightly compared to the first half of the year, the industry has experienced modest year-over-year growth in sales compared to the first nine months of 2013," said AEA President Paula Derks. "The report is only in its second year of quarterly reporting, so it's difficult to draw any conclusions on seasonality of sales just yet; however, this will be worth watching in future years."

OEM installations (called forward-fit by AEA) accounted for slightly more than half the dollar value of the installed avionics. New equipment installed in the existing fleet accounted for almost $291 million in sales, about 47.3 percent of total sales. About two-thirds of the total sales happened in North America, based on data supplied by companies that keep track of where their gear goes.

Honeywell has appointed a former naval aviator to lead BendixKing and continue "its legacy of delivering innovative, reliable and intuitive avionics to the light aircraft and pilot community." Justin Ryan will assume the post after Kevin Gould was quietly let go a few months ago. "As a former naval aviator, general aviation pilot, airplane owner and successful business leader, Justin is uniquely qualified to lead BendixKing as it strives to meet the progressive needs of today's general aircraft owners and pilots," said Honeywell spokesman Brian Sill.

Ryan flew A-6E Prowlers in Desert Storm and owns a Cessna 210 now. He's worked at Honeywell for eight years, mostly on airline projects. BendixKing was once the undisputed GA avionics leader but has given significant market share up in the last 15 years with the move to glass cockpits. The company has repeatedly announced its intention to rebound in the market but has struggled in the process.

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The first Zulu Flight Training office in Europe is now up and running in Geneva, Switzerland, Continental Motors Group announced this week.  Like the original site for the project, in Spanish Fort, Alabama, the new office offers a simulator-based curriculum based in a convenient, urban location. The goal is to retain students who might otherwise abandon their training due to busy schedules and lack of proximity to the airfield. The strategy has delivered student retention rates greater than 90 percent at the Alabama office since the launch two years ago, says Gloria Liu, general manager at Zulu Flight Training. 

The Zulu Flight Centers also act as an urban aviation hub, the company said, providing a convenient site to offer safety seminars, host aviation and professional groups, conduct lectures, provide pinch-hitter courses, and help visiting pilots familiarize themselves with local airspace procedures. Both flight centers offer private pilot and instrument training. AVweb editorial director Paul Bertorelli visited the Alabama office last year, and provides an analysis and a video.

image: wgntv.com

An Aero Commander 500 crashed into a house about a quarter-mile from Midway International Airport in Chicago at 2:42 this morning, coming within eight inches of an elderly couple asleep in bed, who were unhurt, according to local news media reports. The pilot did not survive. The airplane was carrying cargo and had departed from Midway about 2:30 a.m. The pilot reported engine problems to ATC shortly afterward, and was trying to return to the airport when he went down, according to the FAA. The house was badly damaged, but there was no fire and nobody else was hurt.

The airplane is registered to Central Airlines, based in Fairway, Kansas. The flight was headed to Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, according to the FAA.

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With refurbs gaining momentum, we're seeing more restoration of modest airplanes, especially Cessna 150s, which are among the most economical airplanes to own and fly. Don Toy of Homestead, Iowa, recently sent us this report on his refurb.

"Here is my project of the last year. I bought a 1966 Cessna 150F model of a friend whose husband had passed away. He started the project many years prior but got ill and was unable to finish. I went on from there. New paint. New Interior, saving for avionics. Paint is back to the same scheme that came out of the factory, with minor adjustments."

New airplanes sales may be a little soft, but we're seeing plenty of refurb work -- everything from new panels to fresh paint to full-up interiors. We would like to feature some of these airplanes in the pages of AVweb and spotlight the owners and shops doing the work. If you have photos of your restored aircraft -- single, twin or turbine -- send them to us at refurb-otm@avweb.com. If we select your airplane as refurb of the month, we'll contact you for more information.
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I can't put a date on it exactly, but about 15 years ago I decided it was neither productive nor professional to get into snippy arguments and wise-ass comments on the Unicom frequency. Nothing useful ever comes of it and after the frequency quiets down, you feel like you need a shower.

Over the weekend, however, I found myself on the verge of a backslide. I was flying with my instrument student, logging some approaches on a lovely Florida day. The wind was out the southwest but variable, a 45-degree crosswind on both runway 23 and 13. Airplanes were using both, but we picked 13 because it's a closer taxi and the taxiways are all ripped up to get to 23, requiring a back taxi. (That will play a role here.)

Fifteen minutes into our exercise, a light sport came putting in from the south, quite obviously flown by an older pilot who was clearly confused that airplanes were using two runways. After a brief exchange with another pilot about this, he slipped into a pedantic tone informing all on the frequency that there could only be one "active runway." He got a little insistent about it and that got him as good as he was giving. Someone snapped back in an even more pedantic tone, "No. At a non-towered airport, there is no active runway." This was obviously uttered by someone who knew his way around the ACs, something I suspect our LSA pilot hadn't cracked in a while. When he persisted, the other pilot got yet more strident, but with the same words: No active runway at an a non-towered airport, meaning no single runway limit and the pilots figure this out on the fly. Meanwhile, the PTT was just starting to dent my thumb, but at the last second, I snapped to my senses and recalled my pledge of yore.

I thought it was over. But, no. Not yet. The pilot landed, tanked up at the self serve then called the FBO wondering how he was supposed to get back to the runway with the taxiways all torn up like they were. Now, another lecture from the FBO lady, who was actually quite polite and patient in explaining that if he had read the ^%$#*& airport NOTAMS, he'd know that the taxiways were under construction, requiring back taxi to get to some runways. She explained how to get from A to B, literally.

The pilot somehow found his way to the intersection of the closed runway and runway 23. (He also ignored the AWOS item about no intersection departures, but I digress.) And now it was my turn. At the time, we had just reported we were in the right downwind for 13—that runway has right traffic. Our LSA friend announced that he was departing runway 23, that the wind favored this runway and so we should be using it, too, rejoined by a comment that suggested, "What are your intentions? I'm using 23." What I wanted to say was this: "Look Sparky, if you want to be an air traffic controller, take the civil service exam and apply to Oke City. Otherwise, put your compass on S and shine on." What I actually said, was "Yes, and we're using 13. You go right ahead and we'll take care of the separation." He did and we did. The compass on S part worked out, too.

I make two observations about all this: One, if you're going to barge into someone else's pattern and start offering advice, at least know what the hell you're talking about or be prepared to get spanked in detail and in multiples. A little courtesy and humor might help.

Second, I couldn't help but imagine some hapless instructor motoring around with a starry-eyed Discovery Flight candidate and trying to explain this bitchy little bit of Unicom Kabuki. "Ah, well you see…ah…it's complicated." No wonder people don't want to learn to fly.

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Boots and weeping wings are fine as far as they go, but it's also nice to have some means of automatically detecting and alarming the presence of ice in flight.  A company called SafeFlight is out with a new device that does just that.

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