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The FAA's revised policy on sleep-apnea screening in pilot medical exams is much better than the original proposal, aviation advocates said on Monday. The new policy, set to take effect on March 2, will not disqualify pilots from receiving a medical certificate based solely on body mass index (BMI), AOPA said. "The new policy combines a focus on safety with a common-sense approach that lets pilots who haven't been diagnosed with an illness keep flying," said AOPA President Mark Baker. EAA also said in a statement the new proposal "has significant improvements" over the initial policy announced in November 2013. NBAA called the new plan "a practical approach."

Under the original FAA proposal, pilots with a BMI of 40 or greater would have been required to undergo testing for sleep apnea by a board-certified sleep specialist, a process that can be time-consuming and expensive. The FAA said it planned to expand the policy to include all pilots with a BMI of 30 or greater. Under the new proposal, the risk of obstructive sleep apnea will be determined through an integrated assessment of the pilot's medical history and symptoms as well as physical and clinical findings. The new policy allows more discretion to the AME, said Dr. Brent Blue this week, in an interview with AVweb. It also allows the use of much simpler and less expensive methods to determine if pilots have a sleep apnea problem or not. "It's a pretty reasonable policy," said Dr. Blue. When the initial policy proposal was released in late 2013, Dr. Blue referred to it as "one of the craziest things to come out of the FAA in years."

Dr. Brent Blue, a senior FAA medical examiner, was one of the many who critiqued the FAA's proposed sleep-apnea policy for pilot medical exams when it was released in late 2013.  AVweb's Mary Grady asked for his take on the revised policy the FAA announced last week.

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White House spokesman Josh Earnest answers reporters' questions about the drone incident Monday morning. Source: CNN

A quadcopter about two feet in diameter was found on the lawn inside the White House fence on Monday morning, the Secret Service has reported. In a 3 a.m. news briefing, the Secret Service said "an investigation is underway to determine the origin of this commercially available device, motive, and to identify suspects." The drone did not appear to be a threat to anyone inside, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. President Obama was in India at the time of the incident. CNN said Secret Service officials spoke Monday morning with a person who came in voluntarily, and it appears the drone was "for recreational use."

The Secret Service said one its officers saw the quadcopter flying at a "very low" altitude and then saw it crash to the ground on the southeast side of the White House complex. The airspace above the complex is a restricted area, off limits to all aircraft. The FAA has been working to develop rules that would better regulate drone use, but so far the effort is behind schedule.

Meanwhile, an airport in Dubai was shut down was shut down for nearly an hour on Friday due to concerns about recreational drone use close to the runways, according to the Emirates News Agency. ''These UAVs are strictly prohibited in Dubai air space for any purpose without a prior permit from the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority,'' said Mohammed Abdulla Ahli, director-general of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority. Legal action will be taken against offenders, he said.

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image from USCG video

Two airplanes, a Cirrus SR22 and a single-engine Cessna, ditched off the coast of Hawaii Monday morning, and all on board have been rescued. The Cirrus chute deployment, splashdown and subsequent rescue were caught on video by the U.S. Coast Guard. The pilot was alone on board, on a ferry flight from Tracy, California. He contacted the Hawaii National Guard at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday and reported he had just three hours of fuel left and planned to ditch the airplane 230 miles northeast of Maui. The Coast Guard sent an HC-130 Hercules airplane and an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter to rendezvous with the airplane.

The pilot deployed the SR-22's parachute system at about 4:44 p.m. and splashed down safely in the Pacific. The seas were 9 to 12 feet and winds up to 28 mph, the Coast Guard said. The pilot climbed into a life raft and was taken aboard a nearby cruise ship en route to Maui, while the Hercules crew stood by. The Cessna pilot contacted the Hawaii Control Facility at Honolulu International Airport about 6 p.m. on Sunday and reported that the airplane, on a flight from Kauai to Oahu, was running out of fuel and he might have to ditch. The airplane disappeared from radar less than 10 minutes later. All four on board, three adults and one child, were rescued by a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew. They were hoisted aboard and taken ashore where they were being treated for exposure at a medical facility; their conditions were not reported.

Two Greek servicemen and nine others were killed when a Greek Air Force F-16 crashed on takeoff at an air base in Spain that was hosting a NATO exercise Monday. Another 13 people, mostly French and Italian, were injured when the fighter went down in a parking area filled with other jets. "The plane lost power, crashing into the parking area for planes, crashing into various planes that were parked there," Spain's defense ministry said in a statement. The two occupants of the F-16 were killed and the remainder of the dead and injured were mechanics and other support personnel working on the planes in the parking area. 

An unknown number of aircraft in the parking area, French Mirages and Italian Alphajets, were damaged. The accident occurred about 3:20 p.m. local time at a training center in Albacete, 160 miles southeast of Madrid. The F-16 was involved in the exercise but it's not clear if the other aircraft were participating.

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Troy Bradley and Leonid Tiukhtyaev have crossed the International Dateline as they continue their quest to cross the Pacific Ocean in a balloon, the team reported on Monday, and have reached the halfway mark toward their distance goal. The flight so far is going smoothly, the pilots reported to their ground crew on Tuesday. Bradley said they are "having a wonderful time" and the balloon is "flying beautifully." So far, the weather has been favorable, and the team has enjoyed "spectacular" sunrises and sunsets from their vantage about 15,000 feet above the Pacific. By noon Tuesday (Eastern Time), the team had covered 3,600 miles in 68 hours of flying, and was passing north of the Hawaiian Islands.

The balloonists hope to exceed the current world distance record for gas balloons of 5,208 miles, which was set by the Double Eagle IV team during the first manned trans-Pacific balloon flight in 1981. They also hope to exceed the duration record of just over 137 hours (five days, 17 hours), which was set in 1978 during the first successful trans-Atlantic balloon crossing by the crew of Double Eagle II. The Two Eagles flight is being tracked online at the team's website and on social media.

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During its 85 years of building aircraft engines, Lycoming has seen vast changes in the market.  Today, it has to survive building a fraction of the engines it once produced.  In this video, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli gives a detailed video tour of the plant and explains how the company has reinvented itself with modernization.

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I'm figuring at the very least, CPO Kurt Fredrickson and PO2 Tara Molle deserve a nice fruit basket and future Christmas cards from Cirrus. In the course of their normal duties, these two Coast Guard NCOs delivered promotional gold for Cirrus when they edited a stunning video of the Cirrus SR22 ditching off Maui on Sunday on a flight from California. It was shot by an obviously able camera operator aboard a C-130 out of Barbers Point CGAS.

Tuesday morning, after the video made the rounds, I was watching CBS's morning news when the roundtable chatter turned to the Cirrus ditching. The hosts expressed uniform amazement that there are airplanes out there with parachutes that can lower the whole thing to the surface. Imagine. As this 20-second soliloquy drew to a close, Gayle King bored into the core: "What I want to know," she said, "is why that airplane ran out of gas." Me too, sis. But more on that later.

This video is, as far as I know, the first complete deployment-to-surface video of an SR22 CAPs event. According to COPA's site, this marks the 64th CAPS event and the 51st save, at least by BRS standards. And here, I'll enter the standard disclaimer. One of the second-day stories I saw had a reporter interviewing a Cirrus owner who explained the system such that the studio talking heads concluded the pilot would have died without it. As I have pointed out, ditching is a 90 percentile survival scenario so the chances are overwhelmingly in favor of the outcome being the same, CAPS or not. It's just that CAPS appears to give a slight survival edge. I say "appears" because there haven't been that many CAPS ditchings from which to draw statistically significant conclusions. The Cirrus went into a moderately high sea state, so I think we can reasonably conclude the CAPS was a better option than a traditional ditching.  

But this is flyspeck stuff compared the dramatic impact that video had and will have on the non-aviation knowledgeable viewer. And if Cirrus would like to take a victory lap for that, they're entitled, just as they were entitled after the Frederick fatal mid-air last October. CAPS saved the Cirrus occupants; the helicopter occupants weren't as fortunate. As I've said before, it worked just like Alan Klapmeier always said it would.

Now, the fuel exhaustion that put the airplane down in the first place. Did the pilot run out or have a ferry tank feed problem? We don't really know. COPA's entry says "failure to transfer fuel from ferry tank." Interesting language. Human failure or a system failure? I tried to check this with the company that installed the ferry, Skyview Aviation in Tracy, California. No one got back to me.

What I wanted to check is if the tank they install really is a gravity feed system, with no pump. If it is, there's not much to fail, other than the valve or plumbing porting the ferry fuel into the system. My guess is it feeds into one of the main tanks, which would be below the ferry tank far enough to allow the gravity feed. San Francisco's ABC news outlet quoted the ferry company as saying there was sufficient fuel in the airplane but it was unable to feed for unknown reasons. We'll see what the investigation reveals.

The rescue itself was textbook and may not even have required the Coast Guard to dispatch, although we wouldn't have gotten the cool video if it hadn't. As far back as 1958, a system called AMVER for Atlantic Merchant Vessel Emergency Reporting tracks the position of participating vessels, first in the Atlantic and now worldwide. With thousands of ship positions known almost in real time, rescue agencies know where the closest vessel is to the potential rescue. The Cirrus was advised of the position of the Holland America Veendam, an AMVER participant, and using one of its motor launches, the ship fished the Cirrus pilot out of the Pacific a few minutes after the ditching. He was in Maui by the following morning. (The whole thing was reminiscent of Captain Ogg's famous Pan Am Flight 6 ditching in 1956.)

This wasn't Veendam's first rodeo, either. Since joining AMVER in 1996, she has participated in 18 rescues, according to the AMVER site.

Well done, mates.

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I bet the Maalox was gurgling away at 800 Independence Ave. on Monday when the news broke that the Secret Service found an errant drone on the White House grounds. Fortunately, the impending blizzard that's going to kill everyone in the northeast pushed the story below the fold, but I'm sure the FAA phones were ringing at some level with this question: What are you gonna do about this?

Well, what are you gonna do, FAA? The agency has never been good at integrating, reacting to and managing technology that emerges at a moderate pace. It continues to be paralyzed by rapidly evolving small-drone technology because the only thing it understands—enforcement-based regulation—simply won't work to manage whatever threat small drones represent. In desperation, it's reaching out to local police departments to act as posses, reporting what the FAA thinks are illegal flights of drones. I wonder how much interest and cooperation they'll get with that.

Monday's incident is illustrative of the challenge the FAA faces on several levels. First of all, the drone's owner, a government employee, told NBC news he was testing the UAS to see how it performed in poor weather—a little impromptu IFR if you will. He was doing this within sight of the White House at 3 a.m. Call me crazy, but I don't think this is a good plan, not so much because of any real risk to anyone, but on the appearance of being, well, stupid. So we have the problem of judgment.

Second, that little drone—a DJI Phantom II by the looks of the photo—has RTH or return to home, so that was either not in play or failed to function if it lost link. Maybe, as Pete Conrad said when Apollo 12 took a lightning hit, we need a little more all-weather testing. Whatever the case, flight testing a quad at that time of the morning near 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is just pushing it. People lose drones by the dozens every day, RTH or not.

For as clueless as the FAA is in confronting this rising challenge, the body politic is worse: How about this New York Times quote from everyone's favorite I-never-met-a-regulation-I-didn't-like Senator, New York's Charles Schumer. "Drones are an important new technology that will boost businesses, aid in storm preparedness and recovery, assist agricultural development and more. But rules to protect the safety and privacy of the American people must keep pace, and I am calling on the FAA and OMB to get these long-delayed regulations on the books."

The honorable Senator misses the point that commercial drones aren't the perceived or actual problem, consumer-grade products are. A guy who's doing stealth flight test at 3 a.m. isn't going to give a rat's butt about what regulation he may or may not be breaking and the FAA will be snoozing away while he does it. And Schumer has no idea what's coming. Brad Hayden, who's developing a drone repair network, told me that at CES, there were already Chinese companies knocking off DJI drones, which is itself a Chinese company.

So what to do here? Forget the FAA trying to police low-altitude, consumer-drone operation and forget getting the local gendarmes to help. They have better things to do. I think the FAA should just surrender the airspace below a certain altitude, say 250 feet. In that space, they should be legislatively stripped of any regulatory authority. Whatever goes on there, goes on. Let local authorities deal with the privacy or noise issues and let the courts sort out any constitutional issues. ("A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms and operate drones shall not be infringed.")

If accountability is wanted—and I don't think that's a bad idea—then require serial numbers on drones and register them like motor vehicles. If you harm something or somebody, you're on the hook for civil damages. And as for the FAA protecting the freckled-neck masses from getting bopped by two-pound drones, forget it. We all live in a rapidly evolving technological society with risks. One of them might be the slight chance of getting crowned by a DJI. So don't go outside. Or buy a helmet. Just don't hope for the FAA to lend you an umbrella. 

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Picture of the Week

Shadows, fog, exotic landing locales, amusing signs, a gorgeous historical photo, and the ever-photogenic "Aluminum Overcast" await you in our latest batch of "PotW" submissions — headlined by Tony Fletcher of Alexandria, VA. Let's go!