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The first A350 XWB, a new widebody version of the popular Airbus airliner, was delivered to Qatar Airways this week. The jet, which has been in development for about eight years, can carry up to 440 passengers and eight cabin crew. 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. "Handing over the first A350 XWB represents a significant step in Airbus and aviation history," Airbus CEO Fabrice Brégier said at the delivery ceremony in Toulouse, France, on Monday. "The A350 XWB becomes the most modern aircraft in service."

The airplane's new carbon-fiber composite wing features droop-nose leading-edge devices and new adaptive dropped-hinge flaps, which increase efficiency at low speeds, Airbus said. For enhanced efficiency at higher speeds, the crew can deflect the wing flaps both symmetrically and asymmetrically, to optimize the wing profile. The new Rolls Royce engines, plus the aerodynamic enhancements, result in a fuel burn 25 percent less than the previous generation of comparable aircraft, according to Airbus. The A350 XWB's first commercial flight will take place on Jan. 15, connecting Qatar Airway's Hamad International Airport hub in Doha, Qatar, to Frankfurt, Germany.

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With tens of thousands of new drones expected to be unwrapped as Christmas gifts this week, the FAA on Monday launched a new safety campaign that it hopes will help new users to fly "safely and responsibly." The campaign comprises a new website,, and a "digital and social media strategy" to help spread the information. Educational pamphlets also have been developed, and Michael Toscano, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said these materials will be distributed to manufacturers "in the coming weeks" so they can be included with drone packaging at the point of sale.

The new website informs drone users that they should confine their operations to less than 400 feet AGL, maintain visual contact with their aircraft, and contact the airport or control tower before flying within five miles of an airport. The website also spells out what activities are considered to be "commercial use" requiring FAA authorization, including real-estate photography and mapping projects. Meanwhile, a new proposed FAA rule that will spell out the parameters for commercial drone use is still in the works. During the news conference Monday morning, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta dodged a question about when that new rule will be released, answering that, "It's a very complicated rule… we're very focused on getting it out as quickly as we can." The lack of clear rules has caused angst in the industry, which is eager to grow.

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Mooney, which was bought by Chinese interests last year, has now been approved to export its airplanes to China, the company said recently. The company, based in Kerrville, Texas, has completed all the paperwork, and a new Mooney M20TN Acclaim Type S will become the company's first official "B" registered airplane. This aircraft has already been sold to a private owner and is due to arrive in China soon. Also, two U.S.-registered Mooney airplanes based in China, which are used for demonstration and exhibition flights, now will trade their U.S. N-numbers for Chinese B-numbers, the company said.

The approval from the Civil Aviation Administration of China is "excellent news for Mooney International and prospective customers in China," said Mooney CEO Jerry Chen. So far, manufacturing is continuing to take place in Kerrville and in Chino, Calif., but the company has said it also may start to build airplanes in China if demand develops.


Cirrus Aircraft now has its full fleet of three test aircraft flying to complete the certification regime for the Vision SF50 personal jet, the company announced this week. The initial flight of the third jet marks a "significant milestone" for the jet program, according to the company's news release. The first flight-test article, which flew in March, has performed a range of aerodynamic performance and handling tests. This airplane will also be used for in-flight testing of the full-airplane parachute recovery system in the near future, the company said. A second jet launched in November, with its primary focus on Flight Into Known Icing (FIKI) certification. The third jet will be used for reliability and optional equipment testing, and will also be used for flight standards and training evaluations.

All three aircraft combined have logged more than 250 flight hours over 177 flights, Cirrus said. The next aircraft to be built will be the first production aircraft. It is scheduled to roll off the production line in the second half of 2015, with customer deliveries to start in the fourth quarter of 2015. The company says it has more than 500 orders for the jet, which sells for $1.96 million. Performance specs include a high-end cruise speed of 300 knots and a range of about 1,200 nm. The cabin seats up to five adults and two smaller passengers.

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For pure, undiluted fun, there's nothing quite like operating a small flying boat off a remote lake.  In this video, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli takes a test flight in a new Searey Elite.  The company is now selling these airplanes as SLSA aircraft.


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Monday must have been one of those schizophrenic days that only a federal agency could suffer. Just as The Washington Post broke a story that the FAA had hired its own lobbyist to suggest ways of speeding up the drone flight approval process against warnings by its own safety inspectors, it was participating in the launch of new, web-based UAS education program. One step forward, two back.

The Post story quoted one ASI, Lance Nuckolls, as asking why the lobbyist hire wasn't a direct conflict of interest. After all, the agency depends on its field staff to monitor what's really going on where aircraft are actually flown and to make recommendations. Hiring a lobbyist to circumvent such efforts is problematical on the procedural level, but also because it erodes morale. The FAA e-mail chain showed the FAA is desperate to get Congress off its back in speeding up drone approvals, but that inspectors have serious concerns about some permits that have been issued, especially for the film industry. More on that in a moment.

Monday's breaking news was the agency's participation in a broad-based effort involving the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the Academy of Model Aeronautics and a coalition of drone groups. They've set up a website called Know Before You Fly that summarizes the simple rules that govern non-commercial operation of small UAS. The agency held a phone press conference on this on Monday to disseminate the site's launch to the general media.

While the story got reasonably good play, the FAA did a poor job of announcing it ahead of time. We only heard about it by accident and our audience is definitely part of the drone-buyer market. Furthermore, anticipating that thousands of new drones will be given as Christmas presents, the groups and the FAA wanted to launch this educational effort before Christmas. Makes sense. But the week of Christmas? Wouldn't it have been better to start this effort a month ago and refresh it with follow up stories? That way, gift buyers—parents—would know the rules going in, perhaps before making the purchase. For as good an idea as this is, the conference gave me a feeling that it was something cobbled together at the last minute which, of course, it probably was, since this seems to characterize the FAA's approach to rapidly developing UAS technology and an exploding market.

Still, better later than never. Educating the masses is always better than beating them with a cudgel and the FAA deserves some credit. During the conference, FAA administrator Michael Huerta summarized the rules: Don't fly above 400 feet, don't fly within five miles of an airport without notifying air traffic control, don't fly near crowds or people, respect privacy and don't engage in commercial use. These are perfectly sensible restrictions and the idea of Know Before You Fly is to make new drone pilots aware of them. Who could argue with the intent of such basic rules?

Actually, I can. The commercial restriction continues to be a sticking point for many operators and although Monday's participants seemed to stress that the overwhelming majority of operators play by the rules, quite a few don't. Some are just innocently ignorant, some are flat out renegades and some just ignore the commercial part. Here in town, a local real estate agent is using a multi-rotor to produce property tours and earlier this year, I talked to a Louisiana rice farmer using a drone to inspect his crops. Under FAA guidelines, both of those uses are illegal. Should the FAA enforce against them? And why? Just because they're making money? For small, light UAS guidelines, this has never made sense. It will never make sense. The FAA and the industry panel need to re-think this.

As for the FAA being at odds with its own field inspectors, there's nothing new about this. Anyone who has ever dealt with the FAA often will know that it's not just one big agency, but a bunch of little agencies that sometimes operate like independent duchies. I suspect this is true of the IRS, the EPA, the FDA and ad infinitum. Nonetheless, it's fair to ask if the reservations these inspectors have are legitimate and something we need to take seriously.

Evidently, there were concerns that the permits approved for the film industry to fly drones weighing up to 55 pounds don't provide sufficient safety margins for people on the ground. These aren't cheap DJI multi-copters, but big heavy drones toting movie grade cameras. Getting bopped by one could be a life changer or a life ender.

I've read the certificate of authorization for the one of the six film companies given permission to use camera drones. You can read it yourself here (PDF). It appears to be well thought out, requiring specific operating limitations, training and at least a private pilot certificate for the operator and an observer must be present. There are link-loss and navigation-loss contingencies and even a requirement for flight duration reserve. 

Overall, my impression is that the permits are fairly restrictive. But does that add to safety or merely add the veneer of FAA speak to give that impression? I can't really judge it, so there could be risks there that I, as a pilot, just don't see. As I've said before, I'm not a nervous Nellie about the risks drones represent to manned aircraft.

Having said that, I think these COAs are a good first step and a way for the drone operators to gain operational experience. We can't expect the FAA to get this right straight out of the box. There will be surprises and probably accidents, too. That's the nature of risk associated with new technology. Let's get our panties untwisted and move forward with it.

Stop Stressing, Enjoy the Holidays

Take heart. The Dow passed 18,000 on Tuesday and the economy is growing at a 5 percent clip. Consumer confidence is higher than it has been in nine years and auto sales are booming. Gas prices continue to plummet and avgas prices are headed south, too.

I promise you that Kim Jung-Un, that laugh-a-minute Korean cut up, will not hack the new computer you're getting for Christmas. Also, you won't get bopped in the head by the drone the kid next door has under the tree. I promise.

So with all this to be joyful for, on behalf of the entire AVweb staff, I wish all of our readers the warmest holiday wishes and profound thanks for being a part of our online community.  

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