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The flight data recorder from the Phenom that crashed in Maryland on Monday shows the airplane slowed to 88 knots on approach, with the flaps extended and landing gear down, the NTSB's Robert Sumwalt said on Tuesday. At that point, the FDR shows the aircraft experienced "large excursions in pitch and in roll." About two seconds later, the throttles were advanced, and the engines responded. About 20 seconds before the end of the recording, a stall warning call began to sound, and continued until the end. The investigators have found no evidence of problems with the engines, Sumwalt said, or of bird ingestion or a bird strike. Windspeed at the airport was 6 knots. Investigators also recovered the cockpit voice recorder, which recorded all 57 minutes of the flight from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Three CFIs were operating near the airport at the time of the crash, one in the traffic pattern and two on the ground. Two of these pilots reported seeing the Phenom execute a series of steep pitch and roll excursions. Another pilot, who had reported abundant birds on the airport frequency, later told investigators the flock he saw was on the ground, about a thousand feet down the runway. No birds were reported on the approach path or near the Phenom. Investigators found all "four corners" of the aircraft at the crash site, Sumwalt said -- the nose, tail, and both wingtips -- indicating that there was no in-flight breakup. The jet hit three houses, with most of the fuselage coming to rest outside the second house. The third house, where three people died, was hit by a wing and caught fire.

The pilot of the jet, who has been identified in news reports as Dr. Michael Rosenberg, 66, of Durham, N.C., held ATP and CFI ratings, with about 4,500 hours logged. He was type-rated in the Phenom and held a current medical. He had previously been in an aircraft accident, in March 2010, while flying a TBM 700. The two passengers were identified Tuesday as David Hartman, 52, of Durham, and Chiji Ogbuka, 31, of Raleigh. The three people on the ground who died were Marie Gemmell, 36, and her sons Cole, 3, and one-month-old Devon.

Video from the NTSB briefing on Tuesday evening:


Visitors to the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida, coming up Jan. 14-17, will have a chance to kick the tires on some pre-owned aircraft as well as all the new models on display, show organizers have announced. The Expo has teamed up with Aviators Hot Line to promote a special area set aside on the ramp to display private used aircraft for sale. The show also will feature refurbished aircraft for sale, in partnership with Triple R Affordable Aircraft, for the first time. More details are posted at the show website. The organizers of the Aero Friedrichshafen general aviation event in Germany also have announced some expanded features for next year's show, coming up April 15 to 18.

For the first time, Aero will feature a Pilots Competence Center, where current pilots can learn how to improve their skills and new enthusiasts can learn about flight training. The show also will expand its indoor UAS flying display, which debuted last year, and also will take it outside for the first time, to a site at Trade Fair Lake near the west entrance. Aero also announced it will be launching a new general aviation show in China next year, Oct. 28 to Nov. 1, on the fairgrounds of Zhuhai Airport. The Aero Asia show will return every two years, alternating with the business-and-military-oriented Airshow China that is also held at Zhuhai. "The two partners are confident that the Chinese exhibition and the new Aero Asia, being held in alternate years, would complement each other perfectly," according to Aero's news release.

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Retail giant Amazon told the FAA this week that it would rather be testing its delivery drones in the U.S., but since the agency has stymied the company's efforts, jobs and investment in the program are being exported to sites outside the country. "These non-U.S. facilities enable us to quickly build and modify our Prime Air vehicles as we construct new designs and make improvements," said Paul Misener, Amazon's vice president for global public policy. His letter (PDF) was posted online Monday in the docket for Amazon's request for an exemption to the FARs. Misener said the company also had tried getting the drones certified as experimental aircraft, but found the process "burdensome" and "onerous."

Misener said development of the delivery drones is in the public interest, since they would be safer and more environmentally friendly than current delivery methods. "Amazon is increasingly concerned that, unless substantial progress is quickly made in opening up the skies in the United States, the nation is at risk of losing its position as the center of innovation for the UAS technological revolution, along with the key jobs and economic benefits that come as a result," he wrote. The company is ready to significantly expand its team of engineers, scientists and aeronautical professionals at its R&D lab in Washington State, he said. "Our continuing innovation through outdoor testing in the United States and, more generally, the competitiveness of the American small UAS industry, can no longer afford to wait."

Amazon asked the FAA in July to grant permission to test the drones in the U.S. The company wants to operate vehicles weighing less than 55 pounds in isolated areas, within line of sight of the operator, and at altitudes below 400 feet AGL, but so far the FAA has not granted approval. The U.S. House Aviation Subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the integration of UAS into the national airspace system tomorrow at 10 a.m. 


Pilots in commercial cargo operations will not be subject to the same rest and duty-time rules that apply to pilots who work for passenger-carrying airlines, the FAA affirmed on Tuesday. The FAA reviewed its final rule on the matter, issued in January 2012, in response to comments made on its financial analysis. A fresh analysis found the new rules would cost the cargo airlines about $452 million, and would produce only about $10 million in benefits. The Air Line Pilots Association and several other groups had raised questions regarding whether the FAA is allowed to consider cost and benefits at all in flight and duty time regulations. In its analysis, the FAA said yes it can, and no changes will be made to the final rule.

ALPA argued that the law requires the FAA to issue a rule based upon the "best available scientific information . . . to address problems related to pilot fatigue" and financial concerns should not be a part of the analysis. The FAA's decision to exclude all-cargo operations from the rule was based solely on cost considerations, according to ALPA, and failed to satisfy these statutory mandates. ALPA also said the law approved by Congress, which mandated the rule changes, did not include costs and benefits as factors for consideration. The FAA said Congress stated the FAA could consider in its rulemaking any matters the FAA administrator "considers appropriate." The FAA added that its financial analysis takes into account the dollar value of potential lives lost and injuries to crew, passengers and people on the ground if cargo carriers continue to operate under the current rest rules.

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The House has passed a package of tax measures that would, among other things, revive bonus depreciation on capital investments, including aircraft. Bonus depreciation allows businesses to write off up to 50 percent of the value of equipment purchased in and put into service in 2014. There are also reports the plan is to make bonus depreciation a permanent tax fixture. Critics say bonus depreciation was intended as a short-term measure to help business get over the economic crisis in 2008 but has become a giveaway to big companies. Not surprisingly, National Business Aviation Association President Ed Bolen disagreed in a letter to The New York Times.

Bolen said in his letter that "allowing 'bonus' depreciation delivers long-term (not short-term) stimulus to industries like general aviation, which provides high-skill, and high-paying jobs...." He said the measure gives companies immediate access to the latest technology and puts their capital investments on the same tax footing as other business write-offs like labor and supply costs. The Senate expected to vote shortly on parallel legislation.

Our earlier story said the House was voting on the measure on Dec. 11 but it actually passed the bill the Thursday before.


It's not often that a passenger throws the chief flight attendant off a flight but that's the scenario that led to a recent Korean Airlines flight leaving JFK late. Of course it wasn't just any passenger. Cho Hyun-Ah (who goes by Heather Cho), the family-run airline's executive vice president and daughter of CEO Cho Yang-Ho, became incensed when, as the aircraft was being pushed back for a scheduled departure to Incheon, a junior flight attendant brought her a package of macadamia nuts. Cho, who, until she resigned the post on Tuesday, was in charge of the "in-flight experience" at the airline, gave her fellow passengers an experience most won't soon forget.

The young flight attendant transgressed two points in the airline service manual. For one, Cho hadn't ordered any nuts and secondly the nuts arrived in their foil wrapper rather than in a dish. The newbie got to continue to Seoul, however. Cho decided that the flagrant violation of company policy was the responsibility of the chief flight attendant. If the boss couldn't get the nut service right, she reasoned, how could he or she be responsible for the safe conduct of 250 passengers on the 13-hour flight. The captain apparently agreed and headed back to the gate where the chief flight attendant was offloaded. The plane was 11 minutes late landing in Seoul. Opposition members of the Korean government have called for an investigation but the airline has defended Cho, saying that given her job description, she was correct to "raise a problem in service." But after a social media campaign that called the airline "Air Nuts" started to hurt ticket sales early this week, Cho resigned the customer service post (she kept the VP job) with an apology. "I am sorry for causing trouble to the passengers and the people," she said in a statement.

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Throughout my flying career, I've occasionally run into what I might generously call the Marlboro Man of aviation. That should probably be the plural form, men, because there's more than just a small handful of these guys.

You know the type. It's the guy who has no use for any kind of regulation, even if he had a basic grasp of what the FARs are actually for. Or the pilot who thinks left turns in the pattern are for the little people or who doesn't bother with an annual inspection on his airplane because he doesn't do that on his car so why do it on the airplane?

This sort of thing has been going on since the Aero Club of America issued Glenn Curtis a license to fly in 1911. I recall bumping into a guy in the flight school where I instructed who wanted a checkout in one of the school's Cherokees. His twin was down for engines. During the course of the paperwork review, I discovered he hadn't had a medical in 10 years, didn't know what a flight review was and routinely flew IFR, despite not having an instrument rating.

I hope I'm wrong about this, but I think this sort of thing is on a sharp increase. As I circulate around shops, schools and events, I keep hearing more stories about pilots who don't care about the Third Class medical because they plan to fly without the medical. And it also appears to me that the overall maintenance state of the fleet is in decline, possibly related to the scofflaw attitude toward medicals.

If my observation is true, I think there are several reasons for it. One is demographics. When pilots and owners get into their 60s and 70s, the horizon is a lot closer than it used to be and, to be blunt about it, they just aren't afraid of what the FAA might do to them. I wonder if this also has to do with a chronic public erosion of confidence in government and political institutions. A recent Gallup poll revealed that only 4 percent of respondents said they trusted Congress "a great deal." Forty years ago, that number was 15 percent.

The cost of owning or flying an airplane ties into this, too. The other day, I was in a shop and an IA was working on an Arrow that probably hadn't had a competent annual in five years or more. It had one fairly important AD issued in 1996 that hadn't been complied with. Personally, I don't get my nose too twisted about regulatory flyspecks, but that's just ridiculous.

The FAA shares some of the blame here, but hardly all of it. Most of us agree it could address the Third Class medical with the stroke of a pen and do the industry a huge favor, but resists doing so largely due to bureaucratic momentum. While over-regulation certainly has a role in driving costs higher, it's only part of the reason some owners don't embrace even minimal maintenance standards. And it's probably not a significant reason.

But pilots blowing off the rules pales by comparison to what's coming. We've discussed the impact and volume of unmanned aircraft operations and how the FAA simply isn't keeping up with the capabilities of this technology. (I'm thinking here about small drones, not the large ones that have to be integrated in the NAS.)

I suspect that most of the people flying these little drones can't be called scofflaws because many simply aren't aware of potential safety issues. I also think many are and do fly responsibly.

But I do wonder where this is all likely to go. During the next decade, the FAA could face an enforcement challenge the likes of which it has never seen. When I first began flying, it addressed such things with reach out programs that I think earned the agency enough respect to keep it from reverting to the iron hand of enforcement. Twenty years ago, I did a lot of accident prevention counselor work and had friends who did the same. It was fun and felt like a public service that had a positive impact. But does it still? Is the FAA capable of getting meaningful results from such programs? I'm not so sure.

I would be delighted to be wrong about all this. But traveling around the country, I can't escape the feeling that more pilots and owners than ever are on the verge of creating their own universes.   

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