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image: NTSB

The FAA has found that hook-and-loop Velcro-style fasteners for ELT units are subject to failure in an accident, but the agency said on Tuesday it has decided against issuing an airworthiness directive that would address the problem because manufacturers have already either revised or are in the process of revising those designs. The FAA did recommend that any aircraft owners or operators who have already installed ELT units with hook-and-loop fasteners should voluntarily switch to a metal strap restraint method.

The FAA said it conducted a study of the hook-and-loop fasteners and found they failed to retain the ELT securely if they were improperly installed, and there was no good way to determine if the installation was correct. They also found that even if the fasteners were properly installed, they could stretch or loosen over time. The fasteners also are subject to contamination from debris. In 2012, the FAA banned the use of the straps in manufacturing new ELTs, but left open the possibility of whether it would issue a directive requiring a retrofit for ELTs already installed.

The aerospace industry and a group representing airline pilots are planning to call for a ban on bulk shipments of lithium batteries on passenger aircraft, The Associated Press reported Monday. The batteries create an "unacceptable risk" of fires, according to a not-yet-published position paper from the International Coordination Council of Aerospace Industry Associations and the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations. The ban would affect only bulk shipments in cargo holds, not the batteries that passengers carry on board in their personal devices. The paper cites tests by the FAA that have shown the batteries can catch fire when packed in bulk, and the fires are difficult to suppress.

The ban would apply to both lithium-ion rechargeable batteries -- the type used in cellphones and laptops -- and lithium metal batteries, which are used in watches and other products. The International Civil Aviation Organization changed its shipping standards last year to prohibit the shipment of lithium metal batteries aboard passenger planes, but not rechargeable batteries, which are shipped by air far more frequently. Some airlines, including Delta and United, already have said they will no longer accept shipments of the rechargeable batteries.

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The NTSB's preliminary report, posted online on Tuesday, revealed no new details about Harrison Ford's accident in Santa Monica last week, and reports on the actor's recovery also are sparse. Local news outlets have reported that Ford, age 72, underwent surgery to repair broken bones at UCLA Medical Center, and according to a statement from his publicist, he is expected to fully recover from his injuries. Ford's son Ben tweeted over the weekend that the actor was "on the mend" and had "the best care possible," but the tweet was later deleted. In its preliminary report, the NTSB said no flight plan was filed for the local flight, and visual meteorological conditions prevailed.

An air traffic controller at SMO told the NTSB that following takeoff from runway 21, the pilot advised of an engine failure and requested an immediate return to the airport. "The pilot initiated a left turn back towards the airport; the airplane subsequently struck the top of a tall tree prior to impacting the ground in an open area of a golf course, about 800 feet southwest of the approach end of runway 3," according to the report. "The airplane sustained substantial damage to both wings and the fuselage." The 1940s-era Ryan PT-22 airplane has been relocated to a secure site for further examination.

The NTSB issued an update Monday on its investigation into last week's runway accident involving a Delta MD-88 at LaGuardia Airport, in New York, but the cause is not yet clear. The safety board said investigators were examining and testing the jet's antiskid, autobrake and thrust reverser systems on Monday. The board also reported that it has interviewed the flight crew, and the pilots said they based their decision to land on ATC's reports that braking conditions were "good." Two other flights had landed within several minutes prior to the Delta flight, and both reported "good" conditions. The crew said the runway appeared "all white" when they broke through the overcast, moments before landing.

The crew also told investigators the automatic spoilers did not deploy, but the first officer deployed them manually. The auto brakes were set to "max" but the crew didn't sense any wheel brake deceleration. The captain said he was unable to prevent the airplane from drifting left. Damage to the aircraft was substantial, including damage to the left wing’s leading-edge slats, trailing-edge flaps, and flight spoilers; a breach of the left wing fuel tank; and damage to the front radome, weather radar and to the underside of the fuselage from the front of the airplane to the area of the left front passenger door. Damage was also noted in the nose landing gear well and main electronics bay. There were 127 passengers and 5 crew on the jet when the accident occured; 23 passengers received minor injuries, but all of them have been released from the hospital. The investigation is continuing.

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Solar Impulse 2 has landed in India, after departing Monday morning from Abu Dhabi on an attempt to circumnavigate the globe powered only by the sun. The first leg, about 13 hours, was flown to Oman, about 215 nm away, by pilot Andre Borschberg, and after a short pit stop, Bertrand Piccard flew the second leg of about 800 nm, which took about 15 hours. The night landing was broadcast live on the Internet at the Solar Impulse website. Piccard flew across the Arabian Sea and part of Pakistan, and then maneuvered the big, slow airplane in a holding pattern while awaiting permission to land. The flight set an unofficial world record for distance flown in a solar-powered airplane.

The next leg, which is expected to launch later this week, will cover about 578 nm to Varanasi, India, taking about 15 hours of flight time. The entire circumnavigation is expected to take up to five months, with about 25 days of flying. The longest leg, from China to Hawaii, will take about five days nonstop. The airplane carries only one pilot, so Borschberg and Piccard will share the flying duties along the 22,000-mile route. The flight, sponsored by a nonprofit group, is meant to symbolize the promise of clean technologies and inspire the next generation of innovators.

All ten people on board were killed when two helicopters collided while filming a reality show in Argentina's Andes Mountains on Monday evening. The French program, called "Dropped," takes sports stars into the wilderness and follows their efforts to find their way back to civilization. The two pilots were Argentinian, but the rest of those who died were French. They included an Olympic swimmer, a sailor and a boxer, all of whom were well-known in France, and five staffers for the show. Francois Hollande, president of France, said the crash was an "immense sadness" for his country.

Video posted online shows one of the helicopters climbing up beneath the other one, as both are circling at a low altitude, reportedly less than 300 feet above the ground. Both aircraft were reportedly Eurocopter models and had taken off just a few minutes before.

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2014 was the first year that the number of helicopter accidents, including fatals, declined in the U.S.  Tony Molinaro, communications lead for the International Helicopter Safety Team, spoke with AVweb's Russ Niles at HAI Heli-Expo 2015.

French company Guimbal has entered the U.S. helicopter training market with its Cabri G2, a light aircraft that has features similar to larger modern helicopters.  AVweb interviewed CEO Bruno Guimbal at the recent HAI Heli-Expo in Orlando.

AgustaWestland announced at HAI 2015 it will build the world's first civilian tiltrotor aircraft in Philadelphia.  Test pilot Paul Edwards describes the aircraft and its missions.

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Lacking a better descriptor, I’ll call today’s blog an examination of confirmation bias. We all know this as the tendency to seek or select only that information which tends to confirm our own opinions and prejudices. I have it. You have it. We all have it, to some degree.

A reader wrote yesterday to ask why the aviation press has been curiously silent about the Harrison Ford accident on Thursday afternoon. I found the comment odd, because like every other outlet, we’ve reported the story as straight news. But I’m kind of playing dumb here, because the reader wanted to provoke a discussion. Judge for yourself. He insisted on anonymity, which I never quite understand. If you have an opinion, stand behind it enough to put your name on it. So here's the note:

I’ve met Harrison several times and am very pleased that he will recover from his accident.  Also, there is no doubt that his high skill level probably saved him from a much worse outcome.

Having said this, the aviation media is noticeably silent about the fact that he turned back and attempted to make the runway. We all know what that means! Based on what has been made known about his altitude and distance from the airport at the time of his possible engine failure (all unverified), it was very doubtful he had any chance of making it back to the airport in the PT-22.

Furthermore, from what we have been told, he most likely was over the western end of the golf course and had the opportunity to set up a more controlled and planned landing on one of the long fairways.  By attempting to make the airport, he eliminated this option. There is a lesson to be learned from this, but nobody wants to bring it up for somewhat understandable reasons and sensitivities.  Still, it’s worth thinking about.

I can’t speak for the rest of the aviation media, but I’m never shy from commenting on things I know at least something about. And frankly, about this accident, I know squat. Most of the information on this accident derives from news reports whose technical veracity and accuracy are both unknown and unverified. The confirmation bias part is “we all know what that means.” Here I’ll stop playing dumb. For those who insist that runway turnbacks are an invitation to disaster, Ford’s accident will be confirmation of that. For those who believe the opposite, the outcome—he did survive, after all—is proof that their view is right.

It’s at this point, I’m capable of throttling my own confirmation biases by pointing out that we don’t know enough about the particulars of this accident to make any kind of fair judgment, much less an informed one. Not that I would anyway until the investigation is done. So in my view, until it is, no lesson yet. Nor am I inclined to speculate.

Early last year, I did my own analysis of the turnback maneuver in this video and this blog. Being a contrarian by nature and a skeptic by predilection, I eschewed the conventional advice to never, ever turn back to a runway in favor of suggesting pilots have to make this decision for themselves to suit the situation they happen to be in at the moment action is required. I still think that’s right. I still think that little piece of FAA-issued plastic in your pocket gives the right and the duty to decide for yourself. I remain a devout agnostic on the turnback. And I’d never second guess a pilot who’s actually in the seat making the call.

I thought NTSB investigator Patrick Jones summed it up nicely when he said this: “Anytime that a human being can survive an accident involving an airplane, it’s a good day.”

And indeed it was.

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Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

Laura Rosema of Seattle, WA delights our eyeballs with a view of seaplanes at rest on the lake. Click through for more photos from AVweb readers.