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Users of the popular ForeFlight Mobile navigation app for Apple devices can now connect wirelessly (via Wi-Fi)áto L-3’s Lynx panel-mountedáNGT-9000 (shown above) and remote-mounted NGT-2500 series ADS-B systems.

The recently announced capability enables both ADS-B traffic and weather data to wirelessly stream from the L-3 ADS-B receivers and into the ForeFlight app’s Maps view. You need to have ForeFlight Mobile version 7.7.2. for the interface to work, in addition to the L-3 wireless ADS-B module.

The new interface shouldn’t come as a surprise to a market that has seen growing third-party compatibility between ForeFlight and various certified ADS-B and GPS navigator systems. That list includes systems from Avidyne, Garmin, FreeFlight and also Appareo—which recently announced FAA certification of its Stratus ESG ADS-B transponder.á

Starting at $5490, the L-3 NGT-9000 is a multifunction system with an integral 1090ES ADS-B transponder, plus a dual-band ADS-B receiver. It also has a color touchscreen and is available in a variety of models, including ones with antenna diversity and integral TAS traffic capability. The NGT-2500 series are 978 UAT systems, available in both ADS-B Out and In versions. As part of its NGT-2000 Price Match program, L-3 says it will match the lowest price of ADS-B Out systems from competing brands.

For more, visit www.foreflight.com and www.l-3avionics.com

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A change in tax law in 2005 has resulted in a loss of $1 billion to $2 billion to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released today. “The amounts lost to the Trust Fund as revealed today by the GAO are simply staggering,” said Andrew Priester, chairman for NATA. “Consider how many new runways, instrument approaches, or additional air traffic control towers could have been built, had this money been available for its intended purpose.”áThe 2005 law directs fuel taxes directly into the Highway Trust Fund, and then vendors of aviation fuel must file paperwork to ensure the funds are transferred to the airport and airway fund. However, the process for vendors to file the paperwork is time-consuming, the GAO found, and the refunds they can qualify for are too small to provide an incentive. As a result, the fund transfers aren’t being made.

The GAO said the tax law was changed to discourage the use of jet fuel for nonaviation purposes, but industry representatives say diversion has always been rare or nonexistent, since the higher cost of aviation fuel would negate any tax advantages. IRS officials told the GAO that since 2006, jet fuel diversion has virtually ceased. The GAO also found that engine technology improvements and fuel composition changes since 2007 limit incentives for jet-fuel diversion. The GAO didn’t make any recommendations. NATA said Congress should repeal the 2005 provision that triggered the loss of aviation tax dollars.

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Amazon is working to expand its air-cargo operations, and over the weekend unveiled its first branded airplane, a refurbished Boeing 767-300. The Prime Air jet was shown off to the public in Seattle’s Seafair airshow. The company said they will have a fleet of 40 of the refurbished 767 jets up and flying in Amazon livery within a couple of years, to connect package-fulfillment centers across the country. Amazon already is working with Atlas Air to operate a fleet of 10 leased 767 freighters out of Wilmington, Ohio.

Amazon ships more than 1 billion packages a year, compared to about 3 billion delivered in a year by FedEx, according to Tribune News. The company will continue to use FedEx and UPS to ship packages, said Dave Clark, Amazon's senior vice president of worldwide operations. "Because of our growth and the sheer amount of packages, we are supplementing our transportation needs," he told the Tribune.

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Heard anything funny, unusual, or downright shocking on the radio lately? If you've been flying any length of time, you're sure to have eavesdropped on a few memorable exchanges. The ones that gave you a chuckle may do the same for your fellow AVweb readers. Share your radio funny with us, and, if we use it in a future "Short Final," we'll send you a sharp-looking AVweb hat to sport around your local airport. No joke.

Click here to submit your original, true, and previously unpublished story.

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Surf Air, which has been operating a fleet of Pilatus PC-12s between 13 California airports for three years, now plans to expand into Europe. Surf Air Europe will operate three airplanes from London, Zurich, Geneva, Dublin and Cannes. Surf Air members pay a monthly fee for unlimited access to the company’s fleet, and can book flights using a mobile app. In Europe, the company says, customers will fly on all-new Cessna and Embraer twin-engine business jets from private terminals. Membership plans for the new Europe fleet start at about $3,600 per month. Meanwhile, the company has been dealing with noise complaints about its operations in California.

Neighbors close to the San Carlos Airport near San Francisco have complained about noise from the PC-12s flying low above their homes. The FAA approved a new approach route last month that would keep the PC-12s mainly over the bay, but neighbors say fog and low clouds often keep the airplanes on the old route. One neighbor filed a suit and was awarded $1,000, but the county is expected to appeal. County Supervisor Don Horsley told The Almanac, “We're not going to let that stand. If residents could win lawsuits claiming local governments have a responsibility to stop nuisance noise from airports, you'd have people constantly suing you. They'd end up shutting [all airports] down." According to an analysis by San Carlos airport officials, the PC-12s should be able to fly the new bay approach about 85 percent of the time. Surf Air flies into San Carlos about 18 times a day.

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I was on AVweb news watch last week when a bulletin on a balloon crash in Texas came pixeling into my inbox. The headline said, “All 16 believed dead.” That can’t be right, I thought. And that’s been the reaction of nearly everyone in aviation whom I’ve talked to or corresponded with about this accident. How is that even possible?

It’s possible because there are giant commercial hot air balloons in the wild that can carry that many people and they operate with surprisingly little FAA oversight. Whether that’s good or bad is less material than the fact that the Lockhart crash will probably force the FAA to give the NTSB what it asked for in 2014: more regulation of the commercial balloon industry.

But on the strength of one horrific accident, is more regulation really needed? Is it reasonable to believe it would make a measureable dent in the accident record? My answer to both is no, but let’s run through the numbers.

Regular readers of this blog know of my insanely unhealthy obsession with mathematically derived accident rates. These are difficult enough to calculate accurately for GA aircraft because the denominator–-hours flown—is always so iffy. It seems to be non-existent for balloons. So a reasonable hack at the unknown is to calculate accidents per 1000 registered aircraft.

For GA fixed wing, AOPA estimates about 160,000 airplanes in the U.S. That works out to between 7 and 9 accidents per 1000 registered aircraft and a fatal accident rate in the range of 1.3 to 1.7, for a couple of typical years that I checked. It reasonably tracks the NTSB’s overall and fatal accident rates based on hours-flown data.á

The FAA has 4016 balloons on the registry. Most of those are hot-air designs, but some are gas balloons. Again, using a couple of typical years to calculate accidents per registered aircraft, I found an overall rate between 2.2/1000 and 4.0/1000. The fatal rate for those two years, 2014 and 2015, was 0.5/1000 and 0/1000, respectively. Now, here a gut check. Those balloon accidents got into the database mainly because they involved serious injury. I’m not so na´ve as to think all the balloon accidents are reported. No aspersions cast on our fellow aeronauts, but balloon operations are well-prepared to haul the crash away, chased as they are with a trailer for that very purpose. But serious injuries—one of the bulletpoint definitions of an accident—will require first responders, as will fatalities. Those are likely to be swept up by the NTSB. So I’ll acknowledge that not all balloon accidents appear in the records and using registrations is a crude measure, but it’s better than nothing. Also, we don’t know how many of those balloons are active; same applies for aircraft.

In absolute numbers, there just aren’t many fatal balloon accidents. There were two in 2014 and none in 2015 and no U.S. fatal balloon accidents in 2013, either. Still, the NSTB would like the FAA to exercise more stringent oversight of commercial balloon operations and in a letter to the FAA in 2014, then NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman all but foresaw the Lockhart accident.

What the NTSB had in mind was the same sort of letters of authorization required of air tour operators or perhaps Part 135 charter companies. This level of regulation sets off required equipment inspection, recordkeeping, training, pilot drug testing and defined operating limitations.á

The FAA demurred, saying this: “Since the amount of ballooning is so low, the FAA believes the risk posed to all pilots and participants is also low given that ballooners understand the risks and general hazards associated with this activity.” Further, said FAA’s Michael Huerta, “The FAA lacks compelling evidence to believe that medications not approved by the FAA have led to balloon accidents.”

In my view, Huerta is right on one count, wrong on another. He’s right that the measured risk is low, given the small number of total accidents and miniscule number of fatalities. But I challenge the claim that those 15 people who climbed into the Texas balloon had a good feel for the hazards and risk. If they understood that a balloon that heavy would climb like a slug on a hot and humid July morning in Texas, they might have paused. I would have. In fact, there’s no way I’d ever get into a balloon basket with more than four people.

Read the accident reports and you can reach your own conclusion about relative risk, but even smallish hot air balloons are a handful in anything but the lightest winds. High-wind landings are almost certain to capsize the basket and that either causes the occupants to bounce around like dice in a throw cup or it ejects them to be dragged or run over by the basket. And when they’re ejected, the now-lighter balloon can climb clear of the surface, presenting a second opportunity for a fast touchdown as the pilot frantically attempts to dump hot air through the crown vent. And balloon baskets, compared to airplane cabins, have zero crashworthiness. The common injury in hard landings is broken ankles and legs. Over a beer sometime, I’ll regale you with how much that hurts. On the plus side, as I’ve detailed above, the numerical risk appears relatively low.

And it’s not clear to me that further regulation of the commercial balloon industry would drive it any lower. Far more so than flying fixed-wing airplanes, safe ballooning requires such a canny sense of wind and weather that much is necessarily left to chance. Ask any balloon pilot with much experience and you’ll hear stories of surface winds that came up out of nowhere, unforecast. And of hard landings and wild, high-wind drags through plowed fields across the furrows. It’s just part of the sport and I don’t see how it can be regulated away. Perhaps for large commercial balloons, defined ops specs might place performance limitations with regard to surface temperature at time of launch or other factors that give the flight a slight edge. But given how much of ballooning depends on fine-point judgment of unpredictable air masses, I just don’t see it making much difference. I think Huerta’s right; the juice ain’t worth the squeezing.

I suppose prohibiting high-capacity balloons that carry more than, say, six people, is an option. I wouldn’t oppose that. On the other hand, my view is that if people are willing to assume the risk and there’s no unusual hazard to people on the ground, they should be allowed to do what they want. The government has an interest in making sure they understand the risks, which can be done through the informed consent model. For the purpose of liability reduction, balloon operators routinely have their clients sign waivers similar to those we sign in skydiving. These basically affirm that the participant understands the risk, acknowledges that he or she can be hurled to the ground, electrocuted or burned to death and accepts the risk of that. It’s caveat emptor and carpe diem stitched into a dozen, harsh, legalistic paragraphs. One drop zone I jumped at actually required you to stand in a front of a video camera and acknowledge you understood and accepted the lunatic thing you were about to do.

The FAA is often accused of tombstone mentality in deciding what to regulate. That’s usually said like it’s a bad thing. But if it didn’t do so, we would be more buried in regulations than we already are and as commercial ballooning may be about to be. But in the wake of horrific, high-profile accidents, only nerds like me argue to, you know, look at the actual numbers. Optics rule all and that’s likely to happen following this accident, too.

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AVweb caught up with Pipistrel at AirVenture 2016 to talk about áNASA's selection of the company's electric powerplants for its X-57 research program. The engine powers the Taurus Electro G2 aircraft.

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Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

Martin Robinson of Dolton in Devon, England delivers a stunning (and slightly concerning once you read his caption) sunset to kick things off in our latest selection of reader-submitted photos.

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Heard anything funny, unusual, or downright shocking on the radio lately? If you've been flying any length of time, you're sure to have eavesdropped on a few memorable exchanges. The ones that gave you a chuckle may do the same for your fellow AVweb readers. Share your radio funny with us, and, if we use it in a future "Short Final," we'll send you a sharp-looking AVweb hat to sport around your local airport. No joke.

Click here to submit your original, true, and previously unpublished story.