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Anticipating that Congress will consider changes to how the FAA functions and gets its funding in the upcoming session, 15 general-aviation advocacy groups signed on to a letter today asking the leaders of transportation policy in the U.S. House to hear their “real and long-standing concerns” about the expected proposals. “Some big airlines have pushed for a new governance and funding model for our nation’s aviation system, based on systems in other parts of the world,” the letter (PDF) states. The GA concerns “go well beyond the user-fee issue,” according to the letter. “These concerns are based on our operating experiences in foreign systems, as well as thoughtful analysis about what those systems might look like in the United States.”

Mark Baker, president of AOPA, told AVweb today his organization wants to be sure that “the needs of our community” are considered in any potential changes to how ATC is financed and structured. “That’s why it’s so important that we have ample time to review the actual text of any legislation, so we can make informed decisions to address our concerns with the present system and any proposed changes,” he wrote in an email. “Ultimately, we will protect the interests of general aviation, ensure user fees are not included in any final bill, and that whatever structure is in place will support the entire aviation community, including GA, for the long term.”

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The Sam LSA, an all-metal low-wing tandem airplane that first flew in 2013, has been acquired by brothers Sebastien and Matt Heintz, owners of Zenith Aircraft (U.S.) and Zenair (Canada). In a news release issued Monday, the brothers said they are considering several different options for the airplane, including an LSA version, a kit, a quick-build kit, and a sport aerobatic configuration. The airplane was designed by Thierry Zibi, of Quebec, Canada, who built just one copy of the airplane and flew it to many U.S. airshows in search of buyers. In 2014 he put the design up for sale, saying he’d decided he was more interested in designing airplanes than in marketing and production.

"The Sam Aircraft design is a distinctive and fun airplane, and will be a welcome addition to the Zenith line of kit aircraft," Sebastien Heintz said in Monday’s news release. The brothers said the Sam design, constructed primarily of 6061-T6 aluminum assembled with blind rivets, makes it “easy and quick to build as well as durable and affordable.” The brothers said they will announce further details about their design and production plans after they complete an engineering review and market research. Zenith will be an exhibitor at next week’s Sport Aviation Expo, in Sebring, Florida.

AVweb contributor Larry Anglisano flew the airplane in 2014; click here for his video flight report.

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GE Aviation will build a new facility in the Czech Republic to produce engines for Textron Aviation’s new single-engine turboprop, the company announced this week. The all-new ATP (advanced turboprop) engine will achieve 20 percent better fuel burn and 10 percent higher cruise power compared to competitors in the same class, GE says. The GE Turboprop Center of Excellence facility is expected to go online by 2020, with a staff of about 500. Besides production capabilities, the facility also will support research on new products, including a 5,000-shp turboprop engine for the regional market.

Until the Center of Excellence goes online, design and testing for the ATP engine will take place in GE’s existing facilities, the company said. Textron has released few details about the new turboprop, which will aim for a range of more than 1,500 nm and top speed of about 280 knots, making it competitive with the Pilatus PC-12. Textron is expected to reveal more details about the design this summer at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh. 

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Airbus has partnered up with Uber to make it possible for travelers to book a helicopter using the Uber app, CEO Thomas Enders said at an industry conference on Sunday. The app will be the first step in a project that aims to “connect air transport to ground transport in an integrated way,” he said. Enders, speaking at the DLD (Digital-Life-Design) conference, in Munich, said the project is part of the new Airbus Ventures venture-capital fund in Silicon Valley, which launched in May with $150 million. The fund will invest in “promising, disruptive and innovative business opportunities around the globe,” Enders said. That could include flying cars. “We now have the precision of navigation systems and the computer power to make such things possible,” Enders said, “but we need investors with less close control.”

Enders also said his company is exploring new ways to use “big data” to create new businesses. For example, a flight from Munich to Barcelona generates 1 terabyte of data, documenting 450,000 parameters. “But only 0.1 percent of big data is really used,” Ender said. The company also is looking at the potential of building “microfactories” in communities around the world, which they hope will decrease the development costs and time-to-market for airplanes in the future, according to DLD’s blog. The Airbus Ventures fund also has already invested in Local Motors, a company based in Phoenix, Arizona, according to Fortune. That company hopes to “revolutionize auto and aerospace design by using the free contributions of volunteer engineers and researchers ... [and] then produce them using 3D printing technology,” according to Fortune.

Airbus wouldn’t be the first to use an app for helicopter bookings — Blade has been offering that service for New York City travelers for a couple of years. The ease of use has been blamed for an upsurge in helicopter flights in the region, causing conflict with summer residents of the Hamptons.

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Digging out after a snowstorm to go flying can be well worth the work, but taxiing around on snow and ice presents unique challenges. Still, it can be done safely if you keep a few things in mind.

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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.

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Over the weekend at the dropzone, I had a conversation with my friend TK, who runs the place. He asked me if I had really been riding motorcycles for 40 years and yes, I really have, although not continuously. He told me he was thinking about a bike, but at 55, was considering himself a little too old to start. I’ll have more to say on the age thing in another blog, but he said something that’s among the top three things people say that drive me up the wall. It relates to how people with minimal information about an activity attempt to assign it risk with a glib statement bereft of forethought.

For motorcycles, it’s, “I worry about the fill-in-the-age-old lady running a red light.” For airplanes, it’s, “Aren’t those little things dangerous?” with the favorite alternate being, “What happens if the engine quits?” For skydiving, it’s the ever-clever, “I don’t believe in jumping out of perfectly good airplanes,” usually uttered by a pilot and followed by a proud grin as if to suggest he’s sure I’ve never heard that before. For the ultimate in idiocy, there’s always, “What happens if your parachute doesn’t open?” Since I’m involved in all three of these high-risk activities, I’ve found that the most disarming response is to explain that I have a death wish. If, while riding to the airport, the old lady doesn’t get me with her Chrysler, the engine on the airplane will quit while I’m flying to the dropzone and when I bail out, my parachute won’t open. I think I’ve got the matrix of certain doom pretty well covered there. And if none of that stuff happens, well, I guess it just wasn’t my day.

Being a sharp-eyed observer of the human condition, I have noticed that these comments are frequently offered by people who have placed into little boxes things they don’t want to think about because they’re not really interested in the risks involved. Fair enough, I guess. But on some occasions, I will engage people in my but-I-have-a-vote argument.

The airplane version is simple enough. If the engine quits, I’m not going to sit there like a quivering mass of protoplasm awaiting the inevitable end. I’ll find a nice place to land and although the airplane might not be usable after that, I’ll do my best to destroy it in a creative way that spares my own hide. If I’m in a Cirrus, I might just deploy the CAPS. “You mean whole airplanes have parachutes now? Do airliners have these, too?” Yes. No. For a patient listener, I might discuss weather judgments, instrument flight, proficiency and other things that reduce risk.

You may recall that when the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators launched in 2011, its overarching goal was to reduce fatal accidents and thereby attract more participants to GA by reducing the risk. I said at the time that I didn’t think enough people paid attention to GA accidents to have an opinion or at least enough of one to keep them from participating. I still think that. Yet, admittedly, the daily press still does boneheaded coverage that distorts the risk factors, including the august New York Times. In that piercing piece of technical journalism, the author fails to note that 2014 saw the lowest fatal GA accident rate in history, although at 1.05/100,000 hours, it hasn’t dropped much. People who don't take risks, don't understand risks.  

When you’re attempting to school a person unfamiliar with GA safety, it’s helpful to keep these numbers in mind because as I’ve said before, gut feel, newspaper articles and cable coverage are the worst ways to understand relative risk because they assume common denominators and don’t account for risk mitigation.

As for skydiving, pilots not familiar with the sport sometimes can’t believe that it’s probably lower risk than flying. The comparison isn’t apples to apples for two reasons: We don’t have a common unit of exposure and the data collection is hardly perfect. Nonetheless, using a single jump as an exposure unit, skydiving has a fatal rate of about 0.7/100,000 jumps compared to 1.05/100,000 hours for GA flying. They’re functionally about the same risk if you accept normalizing the exposure unit, although I think the data suggests that skydiving is less risky than flying on a fatal accident basis. (This doesn’t include BASE jumping; that’s a whole ‘nother game.)

Using a mile, a jump and a flight hour as the exposure basis, my friend TK’s worry about motorcycles is not entirely misplaced. According to NHTSA data, the fatal car accident rate in the U.S. is about 1.11/100m miles. Motorcycles are 39/100m—many times greater. Comparing car fatal rates to the GA fatal rate is difficult because of the different exposure units. But I think the cars come out ahead as being safer, not the least of which is due to improved crashworthiness that airplanes haven’t quite matched.

But for those who use light aircraft for transportation, the GA fatal accident rate is 10 times higher than the scheduled carrier rate. If wives, kids and cohorts knew this, would they still crawl into the back seat? How can a pilot or owner justify that elevated risk? For the simple reason that these activities aren’t entirely governed by the fear of dying. For many of us, the risk is part of the attraction and to keep it reasonable, we apply certain mitigations related to skill, experience and awareness. This is where my I-have-a-vote-in-this kicks in.

For light aircraft flying, you might limit your trips to benign weather, rule out night flying or you might fly a twin or a turbine and spend time and money to stay current. Or maybe you own a new or used Cirrus with CAPS. The point is, regardless of the fatal risk, you take what you believe to be meaningful steps to reduce it by some amount below what the basic data tells you. And if the basic data already paints low risk, you’re reducing it further. While it’s true that one man’s risk mitigation is another’s denial, some form of this mechanism is what propels us to remain in these risky activities.

Getting back to motorcycles—and it’s relevant because many pilots also ride—the risk mitigation is really survival instinct. You don’t sit stopped in the middle of an intersection waiting for Miss Daisy in her Chrysler to t-bone you. You ride defensively, looking deep into intersections for threats, eyeballing left turners like a hawk and you camp in the mirrors looking for cars trying to do you in from the rear. You scan the road for hazards and build in stopping distance in traffic. You plan escape routes and make head checks an autonomic function. You learn to corner and brake effectively and slow down to stay inside your own decision loop on a blind sweeper. (I actually practice these things.) And you wear all the gear, all the time, especially a helmet. That alone reduces the fatal risk substantially, despite a lot of misinformation to the contrary. Taken together, these things add up to a bubble of awareness that makes you safer than riders smoking cigarettes and riding bare headed with flip flops doing their very best to be the knuckleheads lending human dimension to that 39/100m statistic. 

You’re still at much higher risk than you’d be in a car, but you’ve made rational decisions to reduce the disparity. The rest you either accept or don’t, just as with airplanes. For me personally, I find there's cross pollination in risk assessment between these activities. Motorcycling, because of its high risk, requires a 100 percent, always-on threat awareness mindset. I find that this consciousness of risk carries over for me into flying, into jumping and even driving. I remind myself of this every time a swing a leg over a bike.

And still, you can get killed doing any of this stuff because there are always surprises and random occurrences no one can plan for or mitigate. But then if there weren’t, life would be pretty boring. Why give up living just to stay alive?

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