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file photo: Wikimedia

A German Airbus 320 is down in a mountainous region of southern France, and all 144 passengers and 6 crew on board are believed to be dead, officials announced early Tuesday morning. The airplane was en route from Barcelona to Dusseldorf and was operated by Germanwings, a low-cost subsidiary of Lufthansa. Early reports said a mayday call was made by the crew at 10:47 a.m. local time, and the pilot requested an emergency descent, but authorities later said there had been no communication with the crew. Radar showed a drop in altitude from 38,000 feet to 7,000 feet in about nine minutes. The aircraft disappeared from radar at about 11:20 a.m. Search crews found debris scattered over an area about a mile square, according to French search and rescue workers.

The airplane had departed Barcelona at 0901 GMT, and reached its cruising altitude at 0945, according to the UK Telegraph. Less than a minute later, the airplane began the eight-minute descent. Weather was reportedly calm in the area at the time of the crash. 

“The visibility was good, and there were little clouds at low altitudes," said Frédéric Atger, a spokesman for Meteo France, the national meteorological service. "There were no convected clouds at the time of the crash, and the wind was light. There was no alarming weather. The flying conditions were usual."

Most of the passengers are believed to be from Spain, Germany and Turkey. The remote mountain region where the airplane went down, near Barcelonnette, has few roads and access is challenging. Helicopters soon arrived on the scene. By early evening local time, rescuers had retrieved the cockpit voice recorder and were still searching for the flight data recorder.

The airplane had been in service for 24 years. Average retirement age for airliners is about 25 years, but many continue flying for up to 30 years. The A320 was introduced in 1988 and has an average retirement age of 19.4 years, according to the Airline Fleet Management website.

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Amazon says the FAA approval for limited outdoor testing of its unmanned aerial systems delivery service is not much use to the company because it applies to an aircraft the company is no longer testing. In testimony (quoted in Geekwire) before a Senate committee on Tuesday, Amazon VP for Global Public Policy Paul Misener said that thanks to more liberal UAS regulations in the U.K. and other countries, Amazon has been able to move on from its original proposal to the FAA and is now testing a more advanced system for its Prime Air program. “The permission the FAA granted is more restrictive than are the rules and approvals by which we conduct outdoor testing in the UK and elsewhere,” he said in testimony to the Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security for the Committee on Commerce Science and Transportation. "The good news is that, while the FAA was considering our applications for testing, we innovated so rapidly that the UAS approved last week by the FAA has become obsolete.”

He said Amazon began testing in more accommodating jurisdictions soon after it submitted its application for an exemption from FAA rules that currently prohibit commercial UAS operations. It also tests in an indoor facility somewhere in the Seattle area. Misener urged the senators to get caught up with the rules in some other countries. He also said Prime Air will be a net safety improvement for society. “Once operational, Prime Air will increase the overall safety and efficiency of the current ground transportation system, by allowing people to skip the quick trip to the store or by decreasing package delivery by truck or car.” Misener said Amazon has asked the FAA for a blanket exemption to allow it to test new UASs as they are developed. The current generation have sense-and-avoid capabilities and are designed to operate largely autonomously as much as 10 miles beyond the line of sight of the control station. They will normally fly at least 200 feet AGL.

At a congressional hearing in Washington on Tuesday, advocates cited issues with unstable funding, aging infrastructure and inadequate staffing for critical air traffic control functions, and lobbied for fundamental change in how the FAA is managed and funded. Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, told the House aviation subcommittee that  "the current funding situation is unacceptable, and we would like to explore alternative models that could address these problems." Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., who chairs the committee, agreed that change is needed. "We have spent $6 billion on NextGen, but the airlines have seen few benefits," he said. "We will never get there on the current path."

The panel heard from experts with insights into alternative models that might work. Matthew Hampton, an assistant inspector general for aviation in the U.S. transportation department, reviewed how air traffic control systems have been set up in various ways in four other countries. Robert Poole, director of transportation policy for the Reason Foundation, said the air traffic organization should be separated from the FAA and organized as a separate nonprofit corporation funded directly by the users of the system. "After three decades of research on ATC reform, my conclusion is that the nonprofit corporation model with stakeholder governance is the best organizational form," said Poole. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., a member of the aviation subcommittee, said he plans to bring legislation before the House in April that would create a private corporation to govern the air traffic control system.

The Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) is rallying its members to oppose proposed regulations it says will threaten small airports across the country and make it much more difficult to build new airports or expand existing ones. Transport Canada's Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA) would mandate public consultation on any new airport or expansion within 2.5 miles of "built up areas" or within 30 nautical miles of existing airports. "As proposed, this amendment stands to place undue hardship on small aerodrome(s) and will significantly impact recreational aviation in general, private owners and operators, in particular," a sample letter being circulated to Canadian pilots says. The NPA applies to "aerodromes" which under Canadian regulations include seaplane bases and helipads. Comments on the NPA are being accepted until April 8.

The amendment could also affect existing facilities even if no changes were contemplated because it would make local building code requirements apply rather than the generally less stringent National Building Code that now applies to aerodromes. COPA says the amendment is riddled with ambiguous references that need clearer definition and stacks the deck against airport developments. "As written, the NPA would cater to opponents and discriminate against the interests of the aviation enthusiast," says the sample letter. Comments and letters concerning the NPA must be sent to carrac@tc.gc.ca by April 8.

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The World Air Games, last held in Italy in 2009, will be held in Dubai this December, with an expanded calendar of events compared to prior games, according to organizers. The games, conducted by the Federation Aeronautique International, aim to showcase air sports to the public and attract new participants. Competitions will be held for parachutes, paragliders, hot-air balloons, gyrocopters, microlights, gliders, experimental aircraft, models and aerobatics. An air navigation race will be open to general aviation aircraft. More than 1,000 competitors, crew and officials are expected to participate in the event.

"The FAI World Air Games is an absolutely unique chance to show how exciting, interesting and beautiful our air sports are," said FAI spokesman Markus Haggeney. "This is why it is crucial to have as many sports as possible included in the program." Events will take place December 1 to 12 in several outdoor sites, including the Palm Jumeirah and Desert Campus drop zones of Skydive Dubai. An indoor competition will be held at the Dubai Mall for radio-controlled aerobatic powered model aircraft. Prior World Air Games were held in Spain in 2001 and Turkey in 1997.

After 15 years and about 300,000 hours of volunteer labor, the B-29 known as "Doc" rolled out of the hangar in Wichita on Monday, greeted by about 300 friends and a band. "Many of us, especially our dedicated volunteers, have waited a very long time to see this day because it means Doc is that much closer to being ready to fly again," said Jeff Turner, chairman of Doc's Friends, the nonprofit group that has funded the restoration. "Doesn't the aircraft look great? Can you imagine how much better Doc will look when it's back in the air?" The group says it needs to raise about $9 million more to complete the restoration, get Doc flying, and create a permanent home for the airplane.

images: Brett Schauf

Doc was built 70 years ago, in Wichita, and joined a squadron of eight World War II-era B-29s named for Snow White and the seven dwarfs. The airplane was decommissioned in 1956 and parked in the Mojave Desert, in southern California, where it served as a ballistic target on a weapons range. Aviation enthusiast Tony Mazzolini found it there in 1987, and began the restoration effort. "Even back then, there weren't many of these beauties left," said Mazzolini at Monday's event. "Saving it from that situation in the desert was one thing, but the dream was always to restore Doc to flying condition and turn it into a flying museum to help keep the memories alive. That's why we brought it to back to Wichita." Only one other B-29, Fifi, is still flying.

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Daher recently opened a new sales, maintenance and support facility in Pompano Beach, Florida. AVweb was there and shot some video of the event.

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After reading your comments about the Me 262 in your review of Adolf Galland’s book earlier this week, I thought you would be interested in the history of a surviving example of an Me 262. This unique example is a night fighter version displayed at the South African National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg. How did it end up there?

My father, Roly (Roland) Falk flew the Me 262 from Germany (Schleswig) to Farnborough in May 1945. He was chief test pilot at Farnborough during World War II and the Me 262 was one of the many captured German aircraft he flew during the war. He is better known as the “pin stripe test pilot” in the 1950’s due to him wearing immaculate suits while flying and first-flighting the Avro Vulcan, displaying it a few days later at Farnborough in 1952 and rolling it at Farnborough in 1955. See a film of that here.

Back to the Me 262. After being used for trials by the RAF for a couple of years, a number of aircraft including the Me 262 were offered to a South African senior pilot to take back to his country to show South Africans what their countrymen and allies had been facing in Europe. Allegedly, he agreed to this and the costs of the shipment without authorization from his seniors in South Africa. Something he had to face up to on his return to South Africa!

I had the privilege of visiting the museum in Johannesburg a few years ago and was very happy to give a copy of my father’s logbook entry for the flight from Germany to Farnborough to the museum curator to prove its provenance. I highly recommend a visit to the museum. It is full of many interesting military items.

John Falk, having both a father as a test pilot and a grandfather, Bill Thorn, on his mother’s side, is the black sheep who did not follow the family tradition. He is trying to make up for this by learning to be a glider pilot now that he is approaching retirement.

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EAA has two Ford Tri-Motors touring the U.S. this spring, one in the East and one out West.  AVweb's Russ Niles went for a ride in Naples, Florida.

KX-170 Dead or Dying? It's 182 in Dog Years! Get a New IFR/TSO'd TKM-170C from TKM Avionics

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.

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Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

Ted Runciman of Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire (England) enlists the Turkish Air Force in our latest "Picture of the Week." Click through to read more about the top photos and see other stunning shots from AVweb readers.