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The head of a private sector ADS-B loan fund says he hopes the FAA moves quickly to get the system running in time to avoid a "train wreck" before the 2020 equipage deadline. As part of the 2016 omnibus appropriations bill passed just before Christmas, Congress directed the FAA to figure out how a federal loan-guarantee program approved in 2012 can help ensure about 150,000 GA aircraft meet the minimum ADS-B Out requirements by 2020. Michael Dyment, general partner for the NextGen GA Fund, says his organization has about $550 million available to provide low-interest, federally guaranteed loans to aircraft owners who don't have the cash to equip their aircraft. What it needs to start issuing the loans is the organizational structure that Congress has mandated the FAA to create. "I would think the FAA would be heavily incentivized" to make the program a priority, Dyment told AVweb. He said that although various tax breaks and other schemes were considered, the loan-guarantee route was picked by Congress. "It's the only incentive program available," Dyment said. Congress has given the FAA until June to come up with a plan for the loans.

Dyment said it's estimated that about half of aircraft owners don't have the financial ability to equip their aircraft and will have to borrow the money. Installation costs vary greatly but in some aircraft would represent a big part of the aircraft's total value. Dyment said he believes low-interest loans will ease the financial pain for tens of thousands of aircraft owners and convince them to equip. Traditional lenders require the aircraft be used as security but Dyment said that under the loan-guarantee program, no security will be required. And because the loans will be federally guaranteed, the lenders can afford to offer them at lower interest rates. Dyment said that as the deadline looms, there will be huge demand for the loans and that's why he hopes the FAA moves quickly to set up the program. Meanwhile, Dyment said the pace of installations is a fraction of what's needed to ensure all aircraft meet the deadline, which the FAA says is firm. "There are about 30 installations being done every day and while that might seem like a lot, the rate needs to be 150 a day," Dyment said. As of Jan. 1, 2020, aircraft not equipped with ADS-B Out will not be allowed in Class A, B or C airspace and most Class E airspace.

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image: ASN

In 2015, 560 people were killed in 16 commercial aviation accidents worldwide, the Aviation Safety Network reported this week. Overall, it was the lowest number of fatal crashes ever, and it was the fifth-safest year for fatalities, according to ASN. The five worst crashes all had “at least a contributing cause of human factors,” according to an analysis by Jacdec, a German research firm. In March, a pilot deliberately crashed an Airbus A320 in the French Alps, killing all 150 on board, and a terrorist bomb is the suspected cause in the crash of a Russian jet carrying 224 people in October. The other worst commercial aircraft crashes in 2015 were an ATR-42 in Indonesia, killing 54; an ATR-72 in Taiwan, with a death toll of 43; and the loss of an Antonov An-12 in the Sudan, killing 25.

The year showed dramatic improvement from 970 deaths in the “disastrous previous year,” when two widebody jets crashed with the loss of all on board, said Jacdec. Over the long term, analysis shows a shift away from technical causes and toward the human factor, Jacdec said. Given the estimated worldwide air traffic of 34 million airline flights in 2015, the accident rate was 1 fatal accident per 4.857 million flights, according to ASN. “Since 1997 the average number of airliner accidents has shown a steady and persistent decline,” said ASN, “for a great deal thanks to the continuing safety-driven efforts by international aviation organizations such as ICAO, IATA, Flight Safety Foundation, and the aviation industry.”

Note: Image shows accidents, in blue, and 10-year average, in red, from 1940 to 2015.

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U.S. airlines could save more than $250 billion by 2050, thanks to technologies developed by a NASA program to boost fuel efficiency, NASA said this week. These new technologies, which were funded by NASA’s Environmentally Responsible Aviation project, could cut airline fuel use in half, reduce pollution by 75 percent, and dampen noise to one-eighth of today’s levels, NASA said. The ERA project, which launched in 2009, was concluded late last year. During its six-year run, program researchers developed and demonstrated eight integrated technologies that aim to create more efficient and quieter flight.

The technologies that researchers worked on:

  • Tiny embedded nozzles that blow air over the surface of an airplane’s vertical tail fin could allow future aircraft to be designed with smaller tails, reducing weight and drag.
  • New surface coatings aim to prevent the buildup of bugs and debris, reducing drag.
  • A new process for stitching together large sections of lightweight composite materials could help design aircraft with complex shapes that weigh 20 percent less than a similar all-metal aircraft.
  • A radical new morphing-wing technology allows an aircraft to seamlessly extend its flaps, leaving no drag-inducing, noise-enhancing gaps for air to flow through. FlexSys and Aviation Partners of Seattle have announced plans to commercialize this technology.
  • NASA worked with General Electric to refine the design of the compressor stage of a turbine engine to improve its aerodynamic efficiency. Tests showed the technology could save 2.5 percent in fuel burn.
  • The agency worked with Pratt & Whitney on a geared turbofan jet engine that could reduce fuel burn by 15 percent and significantly reduce noise.
  • NASA also worked with Pratt & Whitney on an improved design for the fuel-combustion chamber in a jet engine, demonstrating 80 percent reductions in nitrogen-oxide pollution.
  • New computer-simulation tools were developed to help engineers create designs that would reduce noise during takeoffs and landings. 
  • Wind-tunnel tests with a hybrid wing-body concept design tested how the aircraft would operate at low speeds and explored the optimal engine placement that would minimize fuel burn and reduce noise.

Reports on each of these technology demonstrations will be discussed at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Sci-Tech Conference in San Diego this week, NASA said.

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AirMule, an autonomous VTOL aircraft built by Tactical Robots, made its first untethered flight on Dec. 30, in Israel, the company has announced. The aircraft is powered by internal rotors, and is designed to enable autonomous evacuation of one or two people. It also can be quickly reconfigured for a variety of other missions. Flight testing will continue, the company said, with plans for a demonstration of AirMule's cargo-delivery capability, and a beyond-the-line-of-sight flight along a path running through a forested area. “All in all, we expect that in 2016 we will finally be able to demonstrate some of AirMule's unique capabilities,” the company said.

Tactical Robots is a division of UrbanAero, which has been working on ducted-fan vehicles since at least 2003. In 2006, the company showed a mock-up of a design at the Farnborough Air Show. The company says at its website that its “long-term vision” includes developing the technology into a true flying car. But for now, the company is aiming toward utilitarian uses that would complement the work now done by helicopters, such as for the military, emergency response, police and off-shore oil rigs. 

The vehicle can carry up to 1,100 pounds and operate within a 30-mile radius, the company says, and it is designed to comply with FAA regulations for rotorcraft. A mobile supply unit of a dozen AirMules could deliver supplies to sustain 3,000 combatants, while at the same time ferrying out casualties, the company says. The vehicle also will be equipped with a rocket-deployed parachute system.

The New London Airport, in Lynchburg, Virginia, has been bought by Liberty University, a nearby Christian school with an aeronautics program. The school paid $1.8 million for the general aviation field, according to The Associated Press. The field, which has been in operation since 1961, will remain open for public use. “Obviously, we’ll be making improvements,” Dave Young, assistant provost of aeronautics education at Liberty, told the local News & Advance, but no specific plans have been made.

The school also operates programs from the Lynchburg Regional Airport. Over the last 12 years, the flight program has grown from four students to more than 600, according to the school’s website. Programs offered include A&P, missions aviation training, drone operations and an airline flight-attendant program. The school has been growing fast over the last decade, according to Virginia Business News, and is now the biggest college in the state. More than 66,000 students are enrolled in online programs, and about 14,500 study at the Lynchburg campus.

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Everyone should visit the Wright National Memorial at Kill Devil Hills at least once.  In this video, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli reports on what's at the memorial and why it's a must-see.

Pilots love to regale the non-flying unwashed with our feats of superhuman skill ... or make excuses for a lousy landing. Situational awareness goes a long way toward smooth arrivals, especially when you ace this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.

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Although Cessna's P210 introduced the world to pressurized comfort in a small single, it was never an impressive performer.  Vitatoe Aviation has turned that around with its turbonormalized IO-550 conversion of the P20.  Here's an AVweb company profile on this conversion.

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When it comes to the buying of gasoline, I may be the quintessential American in one sense and the atypical American in another. Regardless of what it costs, I’m going to buy it and do what I plan to do. I’m the last guy to care if one station has a price a nickel less than the one across the street. I rode motorcycles for 12,000 miles last year and the 15-cent savings on a fill up isn’t worth the risk of a left turn across busy lanes. On the other hand, cheaper gas doesn’t make me drive, ride or fly more because fuel price just isn’t a factor for me.

But what about other people? I drove into the airport the other day and the posted price on the self-serve pump was $3.98. As I observed a year ago, that’s what the price was then, too, down from $5.40 the previous year. So basically, at least at our airport, fuel prices have been 26 percent lower for more than a year.

Nationally, AirNav had the 100LL average price at $5.37 a year ago; today it’s at $4.86 for the latest reporting period, a rather less impressive 9 percent reduction. For comparison, GasBuddy reported the average U.S. price for regular gasoline in mid-2014 as $3.67. For the latest reporting period, the price is $1.99, a decline of 46 percent. I’m not going to launch into whining about why avgas is so expensive compared to car gas because you already know that its price point isn’t strongly indexed to the crude oil market nor does the retail price have much to do with the constituents used to make it. It’s market-will-bear-pricing and that’s just the way it is.

But the larger point question is has a 10 to 25 percent decrease in the cost of avgas increased flying activity? Has it for you? Did you fly more last year because of cheaper gas or do you plan to fly more in 2016? We’re publishing a Question of the Week to probe that and I encourage you to comment below. My guess is, however, that the answer to both will be no. Although there’s strong correlation to lower car gas prices changing behavior—people drive and travel more, consumer spending rises and buyers swing back toward purchases of gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks—the data on general aviation flying is murky at best.

The best global indication is not asking people if they’re flying more, but seeing if they’re buying more avgas. The U.S. Energy Information Agency tracks this as does the American Petroleum Institute. But the data is, to put it generously, difficult to parse. According to EIA data, avgas consumption trends have been steadily downward since 1984, with the exception of a strong spike in demand between 2009 and 2012—yes, into the teeth of the recession. This data makes no sense to me, but the spike was significant—from about 493,000 gallons a day in 2009 to 733,000 in 2012. After that, it dropped off sharply.

Looking at more recent data, September 2015 saw demand for about 462,000 gallons a day, according to EIA data charted by Ycharts. That was down from 487,2000 gallons for the same period between the year before. Month by month, there's variability in demand; some months are up, some are down. The peak in 2015 occurred in July and was higher than the July peak in 2014 by almost 2 percent, which is similar to trends on the automotive gasoline side. 

For the nine months that data is available, five months showed higher consumption, four showed less. That’s not a lot different than the same period between 2013 and 2014, before the price drops became evident. During that period, five months showed declines, four increases and one was a wash. If there’s a trend buried in there, I sure don’t see it. Perhaps someone could enlighten me. The source data for all this has always been somewhat suspect because the totals don’t always add up to what refinery sources have told us they actually produce. But the trends ought to be consistent, in my view. 

I’ve always maintained that the price of avgas is actually just a small factor in larger forces that shape GA activity and that it might take much larger price decreases to stimulate demand, if that’s even possible. It could very well be that a combination of things—say, the Third Class medical revision, fuel prices, more younger pilots buying airplanes, GDP above 3 percent—could conspire to spike up GA activity a little.

Or not. Something to contemplate for 2016.

Rotax Revisited

Reader Gus Funnell wrote to say that my theory about Rotax developing the 915 iS in last week’s blog is all wrong. He says Rotax has in mind the gyrocopter market, which is huge in Europe and all but non-existent in the U.S. Rotax’s Marc Becker said as much in this video shot at AirVenture last July.

That’s probably more right than thinking Icon had much influence, although several people in the industry told me they believe that Rotax is big on Icon’s success. And why wouldn’t they be? If Icon succeeds, that’s many hundreds more engines out there in the market. We’ll see what 2016 brings.

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