FAA Faces Multiple Challenges in Drone Regulation

Filed under Features

As drone technology advances, the call for regulation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) by various parties is becoming more urgent. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been given a deadline of September 2015 to compile rules and protocols to regulate the use of UAVs in American airspace, but recent reports suggest this deadline will not be met as the regulatory body attempts to address all issues related to the use of drones. Drones come in all shapes and sizes, and are designed for a variety of uses, making it impossible to apply a one-size-fits-all set of rules to their use. The FAA anticipates that there will be as many as 7,500 active UAVs in US skies within five year’s time, with tens of billions of dollars being invested in drone technology worldwide.

For the FAA to regulate drones to the extent that aircraft are regulated, they would need to set standards and certification for drone designs and manufacture; mandate and approve technology to avert collisions between UAVs and airplanes; set standards for air-to-ground communication; establish criteria for training drone controllers; and a host of other complex factors.

Many are concerned that unregulated civilian, industry and commercial drones pose serious safety and privacy issues. Currently, commercial use of drones in the US is prohibited by the FAA, but when it comes to hobbyists the rules are not clear. In early July two drones came perilously close to colliding with a New York Police Department helicopter near the George Washington Bridge. The incident took place after midnight and had it had not been for the quick thinking of the helicopter pilot, could have turned out badly. As it was, the pilot followed the drones along the Hudson River to where they landed and NYPD arrested the operators of the drones, charging them with first degree reckless endangerment. Their lawyer compared their actions as being similar to flying a kite, as the UAVs apparently do not have the ability to fly above 300 feet, a claim that onlookers dispute as an unnamed source noted the drones in question can reach heights of 5,000 feet. Nonetheless, the owners of the UAVs appeared unaware of the risks involved in their newfound hobby – and therein lies one of the challenges the FAA will need to consider as they draft regulations for unmanned aerial vehicles in the United States.

Dangerous Pastime Compromises Aviation Safety

Filed under Features

In February 2012, the act of aiming the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft, or at the flight path of an aircraft, in the United States, became a criminal offense when President Barack Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 into law. A recent FAA report reveals that the law has not had the desired effect in curbing this dangerous pastime, as in January this year there were 346 reported cases, compared with the 283 for the entire year of 2005. This is despite the fact that the FAA has endeavored to bring this problem to the attention of the public, including making provision on the FAA website for anyone to report a laser incident, anonymously if preferred.

Two incidents at LaGuardia airport on the night of October 15 are reportedly being investigated by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, highlighting just how seriously authorities are taking this issue. These two incidents bring the total number of laser incidents at LaGuardia Airport this year alone to 54, with three of those occurring in October, and while no deaths have resulted from these incidents, a number of pilots have reportedly suffered injuries to their eyes. Thanks to the skill and dedication of the pilots, they have been able to land their aircraft safely, but the distraction of a laser pointer, which can and does cause temporary blindness, poses a significant threat to aviation safety.

There are many legitimate uses for lasers and other bright lights being shone into the sky, and it is generally agreed among safety experts that a pilot being distracted during cruising does not pose an undue risk. The real danger is during the phases of flight that are classed as ‘critical’ – takeoff, approach, landing and emergency measures. Low-powered lasers are readily available to the public, and some of the effects these could have on a pilot’s vision include what has been described as: ‘distraction and startle’ where the pilot is startled by the bright light and temporarily distracted, particularly as he or she does not know if another brighter light may follow; ‘glare and disruption’ is caused by an increase in the brightness of the light dispersed across the airplane’s window and interferes with vision; and ‘flash blindness’ where night vision is temporarily lost and afterimages of the light remain in the pilot’s vision for a time. Anyone who has had their photograph taken with a flash in the dark will be familiar with this.

While the type of lasers that could do permanent damage to a pilot’s vision are not available to the public, the run-of-the-mill laser being used by pranksters puts unnecessary pressure on pilots who carry the responsibility for the safety of their crew and passengers. Hopefully, the very real possibility of being tracked down by authorities and landing up in jail will be some sort of deterrent to people engaged in this dangerous activity.

Ongoing Research Addresses Bird-Strike Problems

Filed under Features

The recent bird-strike that caused American Airlines Flight 289 to turn back to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport has highlighted the ongoing issue of wildlife and aviation safety. Soon after taking off for Shanghai the crew reported experiencing a problem which was later described as a bird strike. Fortunately, the airplane landed safely and none of the 236 passengers and 15 crew members on board was injured. The fact that this particular incident was widely publicized may lead readers to think that this was a rare occurrence, but an investigation by NBC5 discovered that there have been more than 430 incidents involving birds and other wildlife colliding with airplanes at O’Hare and Midway International Airports since the beginning of last year, with 103 of those occurring in the first six months of 2013.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) maintains a database of bird and wildlife strikes nationwide, and the data reveals than an average of 6,000 strikes are reported annually. However, reporting is not mandatory and it is estimated that less than forty percent of incidents are reported. Nonetheless, with the increase in air traffic and development encroaching on the habitats of wildlife, there has been a fivefold escalation in incidents in the last two decades. The majority of bird strikes do not cause damage or injuries, with others causing minor damage to airplanes, but no injuries to passengers and crews. But then there are those that result in significant, and expensive, damage to planes and injury or loss of life to those on board.

Due to their size and their behavioral patterns, geese are of particular concern to scientists and researchers engaged in the business of preventing bird strikes, as a collision with a flock of geese is very likely to be disastrous. Referred to as ‘Dr Goose’ – a reference to his expertise in the behavior of Canada geese, Professor of Biology (and pilot) Dr Philip Whitford is a certified wildlife hazard management consultant for the FAA and the developer of the GooseBuster. This sonic repellent device uses recordings of alert and alarm calls of Canada geese to repel the birds from the targeted area and discourage them from returning. Other means of repelling birds include the use of 3D balloons imitating the eyes of predators, or animated replicas of predators such as coyotes and eagle drones.

Repelling birds and other wildlife from airports is a daunting, but essential, task. As each area has its unique challenges, there is no one-type-fits-all solution, but researchers continue to devise ways to improve aviation safety by preventing bird-strikes.

FAA Reviewing Passenger Use of Electronic Devices

Filed under Features

With electronic devices firmly entrenched as part of daily lives for many travelers, airlines are under pressure to allow passengers to use their tablets, laptops, smartphone, e-readers and other devices without restriction during flights. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been working on a set of regulations to govern the use of these devices on airplanes, but is reportedly far from ready to put any new rules into action, with the delay being attributed to the authority’s desire to put into place a concise set of regulations to deal with current, and even future, technology.

A year ago, the industry working group set up by the FAA noted that, faced with evolving electronic technology, the FAA was reviewing the use of personal electronic devices, excluding the use of cellphones, on aircraft. A full year later the FAA appears to be no closer to resolving the issue and this has drawn sharp criticism from some quarters. Among the critics is Senator Clair McCaskill (D-MO) who recently announced her plans to circumvent the FAA and introduce legislation allowing passengers the freedom to use their electronic devices throughout a flight.

The increasing number of different types of electronic devices brought by passengers onto airplanes is adding to the difficulty of drafting a set of standard regulations. The FAA working group needs to include all these devices and take into account the different modes of operation they offer. Currently a number of electronic devices include an “airplane mode” option, which generally means that they do not send or receive wireless signals, but this is not necessarily standard across all devices with this option. Also, there is concern that FAA’s desire to have rules that will apply to devices of the future may not be realistic given the speed at which technology is developing. The group has apparently also noted concerns over expecting already busy flight attendants to police the use of various devices.

The initial concern with the use of electronic devices on flights addressed, among other things, the issue of possible interference with electronic signals pilots rely on for safe flight. To date, the FAA reportedly has no record of aviation accidents caused by interference from personal electronic devices. Flight attendants note that their main concern is that passengers should not be using electronic devices when the safety measures are presented at the beginning of the flight, as they need to hear and understand what should be done in the event of an emergency.

The FAA anticipates a final report from the working group later this year, with rule changes being implemented by the end of 2013.

How to Find a Quality Flight Training Program

Attending flight school is a big decision. You can’t just waltz into class and grab a seat. Besides, even if you could do that, you don’t know the kind of education you’ll receive. Like any other school, not all flight schools are created equal. The knowledge and experience of the instructor will play a big role in the type of education you get. So will the philosophy of the school. Here’s what you need to look for before you commit to anything:

The Minimum Requirements

Minimum requirements in the U.S. are set in stone. The FAA requires that you be at least 17 for a private pilot’s license. For a commercial license, you must be at least 18. In both cases, you have to be able to speak and read English. You don’t need perfect vision, but it must be correctable to 20/20 with glasses or contacts.

The School

You have several choices when it comes to schools. First, you can choose a Part 141 school. These schools have pretty high requirements in terms of what’s expected of you. They are periodically audited by the FAA too. The benefit is, if you’re going for your commercial license, you only need 190 flight hours (minimum).

Another choice is a Part 61 school. These schools aren’t audited by the FAA, but they require many more flight hours – a minimum of 250 for commercial licensing. Finally, an accredited school is like attending any other college or university. This last option might be particularly attractive if you want to be a professional pilot since you’ll earn a degree.

Check out the ground school. Most students focus mostly on the flying part of school, but a good ground school can make all the difference in regards to the quality of your education. Ground school is where you learn the theoretical knowledge that will be required when you’re up in the air.

Ground school may consist of either an instructor teaching you or a self-paced home-study class. If you don’t work well independently, make sure your school has a strong ground school with good instructors. If you need a flexible schedule, make sure your school offers a home-study course. Not all of them do.

The Costs

What does your school cost? A private pilot’s license will likely run you about $5,000 to $6,000. Maybe more. A commercial license may cost you $15,000, $30,000, or more depending on what your instructor charges, the cost of aircraft rental, and the hours you need to pass your exam and checkride.

Don’t automatically go with the lowest cost school. In fact, you should look at the most expensive schools you can afford. They will likely have well-paid instructors since higher pay tends to attract more knowledgeable and competent instructors.

Available Financial Aid

There are a lot of ways to pay for flight school. Most students use scholarships or loans to defray most of the costs. Some of the more popular scholarships include:

• Boeing Scholarships

• UAA Janice K. Barden Aviation Scholarship

• The Aero Club of New England

• The Girls With Wings Scholarship

• William M. Fanning Maintenance Scholarship

• Astronaut Scholarship Foundation

• Lawrence Ginocchio Aviation Scholarship

• Alan H Conklin Business Aviation Management Scholarship and;

• The LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Scholarship

You can also get financial aid in the form of federal Pell Grants and a direct Stafford Loan.

Article contributed by Paul C. Guerrier.

Paul C. Guerrier is a recently certified airplane pilot. His passion is aviation, and he blogs about it for a number of different websites. Click for more information about better pilot training.

Ultralight Aircraft Safety Concerns Raised

Filed under Features

A series of recent crashes in southwest Florida involving ultralight aircraft has highlighted the risks of operating these non-standard, unregulated aircraft – for the pilot, and people on the ground. All of the five aircraft that crashed were non-standard, and two of the five pilots were more than eighty years old, with one being over seventy. Because ultralight pilots need no license and are exempt from taking a yearly physical, it would appear that older pilots, who may fail to meet the requirements to keep their licenses, are turning to ultralight aircraft to satisfy their need to fly. Critics are raising the question of whether these ultralight, homebuilt and experimental aircraft, along with unlicensed and unqualified pilots, are creating a public safety hazard.

Ultralights that carry only one person, a maximum of five gallons of fuel, and fly no faster than 62 mph need not be registered with the FAA, with the proviso that they stick to non-urban areas, but this is not regulated, neither are there any mandatory maintenance requirements. The main investigative agency for air crashes, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), only investigates if the plane has a number on its tail. Otherwise the investigation is left to local authorities, who only investigate if there is a death. Also, because there is no regulation and/or investigation, there is no database on accidents and their causes, and information gathered is more anecdotal in nature. The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) director of communications, Dick Knapinski, noted in an interview with the Herald Tribune that the organization is working with the NTSB to narrow down the causes of crashes.

Of the five recent crashes, only two of the ultralight aircraft had tail numbers and were flown by trained pilots, the kit-built Seawind 3000 that crashed on the Sarasota campus of the New College of Florida on Jan 12, 2013 and the amateur-built Skybolt that crashed into the Gulf of Mexico on December 19, 2012.

Currently, pilots who move from piloting a smaller airplane, such as a single-engine Cessna, to a larger twin-engine plane, are required to undergo additional training. But when pilots downsize, additional training is not required despite the fact that the aircraft handle very differently. As more and more amateur pilots built their own ultralight aircraft and take to the skies, authorities are being urged to take steps to regulate the operating of what one critic described as “flying lawn furniture”.

Wildlife Hazards and Aviation Safety

Filed under News

With recent FAA data revealing that aircraft bird strikes in the United States continue to pose a significant threat to both civil and military aviation, the services of the Bird Strike Committee USA are more necessary than ever before. Formed in 1991, the Bird Strike Committee USA is a volunteer organization with members from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), US Department of Defense, and US Department of Agriculture, as well as representatives from the aviation industry, airlines and airports. Among the organization’s goals is to facilitate the collection and analysis of accurate data regarding wildlife strikes; facilitate the exchange of information between the various aviation industry sectors; promote the ongoing development of new technologies for dealing with wildlife hazards; advocate high standards of conduct and professionalism in wildlife management programs, including the appropriate training for bird control personnel; and liaise with similar organizations based in other countries.

Together with Bird Strike Committee Canada, the Bird Strike Committee USA meets once a year to discuss matters pertaining to their stated goals. Taking place over a period of three-and-a-half days, the conference program includes field training and classroom sessions covering wildlife control at airports in both civil and military aviation. Also on the agenda is the presentation of technical papers, with exhibits and demonstrations by suppliers of wildlife control equipment, and a field trip at the host airport to observe firsthand the current management programs and the specific habitat issues faced by authorities responsible for aviation safety. The last meeting of the Bird Strike Committees was held in September 2011 in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, and the 2012 event is scheduled to take place in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, on 13-16 August.

Among the topics covered at the annual meeting are wildlife strike reporting; bird control techniques; new technologies for reducing wildlife hazards; wildlife management training at airports; environmental issues; aircraft engine performance and standard specifically related to wildlife hazards; migratory patterns of birds; and remote sensing to detect, and predict, bird movements and numbers. Attendance at the annual meetings is open to anyone interested in environmental management at airports and the reduction of wildlife hazards in aviation.

Bearing in mind that reporting wildlife strikes in civil aviation is not compulsory, and many incidents likely go unreported, statistics reveal that about 10,000 bird and other wildlife strikes were reported in 2011 for civil aviation in the USA, and about 4,500 were reported by the USAF. Thanks to quick-thinking pilots and sound equipment, hundreds of potential disasters have been averted -the historic landing of Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in January 2009 being an example that readily comes to mind. Nonetheless, more than 221 people have been killed as a direct result of bird strikes worldwide since 1988, highlighting the need to continue to seek solutions to the ongoing problem of bird air strikes.

New FAA Regulation Outlaws Dangerous Pastime

Filed under Features

One of the items on the new FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, signed into law by President Barack Obama on February 14, makes it a criminal offense to aim the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft, or at the flight path of an aircraft, in the jurisdiction of the United States. Most rational people would think that should go without saying, but the recent prosecution of an Orlando Man who pleaded guilty to this charge has highlighted a growing trend in this dangerous pastime, with more than 3,500 reported incidents in 2011.

Take-off and landing are the most critical operations of air travel, where distracting a pilot increases risk exponentially. The accused offender reportedly faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison for aiming the beam of a laser at passenger aircraft during take-off at Orlando International Airport on at least twenty-three occasions, and would presumably have continued to do so had authorities not put a stop to his game. In Virginia Beach, a man was prosecuted for temporarily blinding a helicopter pilot with a laser pointer, forcing the pilot to hand over controls to his co-pilot. At the time they were conducting a search for a runaway criminal and the search had to be abandoned. While at the point of origin the light of a laser pointer is very small, it expands by several inches over distance, and when it hits the glass of the cockpit, the light disperses and is extremely bright. In this latter incident, the offender admitted that he had no idea what the consequences of his actions may have been and was just “goofing around”. This highlights the need for public awareness that it is against the law to interfere with the authorized operation of an aircraft, and the potential consequences of violating this law.

Topics covered in the new FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 include Funding of FAA Programs, such as airport and noise compatibility planning, and air navigation facilities and equipment; Airport Improvement Program Modifications; NextGen Air Transportation Systems and Air Traffic Control Modernization; Safety, including general provisions and safety relating to unmanned aircraft systems; and Environmental Streamlining, including over flights of national parks, aviation noise complaints, and increasing the energy efficiency of airport power sources.

Drones Approved for Flight In the US

Filed under Features

The FAA funding bill recently signed into law by President Barack Obama is set to significantly increase the use of unmanned aircraft in the United States. Developed for military use in armed conflicts, drones such as the Predator, manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, have played an essential role in surveillance and other activities in hostile territories. Apart from the drones used by authorities to monitor remote areas for criminal activities, and some research companies and universities that have FAA permission to pilot the unmanned aircraft, the Federal Aviation Administration has held back on allowing unmanned flights inside the United States until now.

With the new legislation, the aviation industry is expanding into robotic technology, with around fifty universities, companies and government organizations reportedly developing up to 155 different drone designs, ranging from Boeing 737 size to the size of a model airplane. Some of the areas in which drones are likely to be used are for surveying property, fighting forest fires and spraying crops. It is anticipated that the unmanned vehicle industry, which is currently worth an estimated $4.3 billion, will climb to $11 billion by the year 2020.

The FAA is required to develop a plan within the next twelve months detailing how it will integrate unmanned aircraft into US airspace by September 30, 2015. To comply with the act, the FAA must liaise with relevant government agencies within 90 days to process applications for permission to fly drones. The new regulations may lead to police officers being approved to fly drones weighing up to 4.4 pounds, with the proviso that they are always kept within eyesight; are only flown in daylight; remain at least five miles away from airports; and keep below a height of 400 meters.

Safety issues, funding and privacy concerns are among the objections raised by opponents to the new bill. While at some time in the future it is likely drones will have the ability to detect obstacles and other aircraft, and avoid them, the technology is not yet available, raising concerns regarding safety. Privacy concerns include the unmonitored surveillance of private citizens. Although law enforcement helicopters do not currently have any restrictions preventing them from carrying out surveillance of private property, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argue that new technology opens up opportunities for even closer scrutiny and there should be checks and balances in place to protect civilian rights.

Government relations manager and general counsel for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Ben Gielow, noted that there is huge potential in the United States for unmanned aircraft. He also pointed out that, contrary to the public’s perception of drones being the large Global Hawks or Predators, most of the unmanned aircraft that will be taking to the skies are likely to weigh less than 10 pounds and measure a couple of feet in diameter . The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International has 7,000 members and represents 500 companies involved in the manufacture of air, ground and sea drones.

Proposed Technology for Safer Bad Weather Landings

With an increasing number of aircraft taking to the skies every year, the aviation industry is constantly looking at ways to make flying safer. Taking-off and landing are statistically the most risky part of air travel, so new technology aimed at making landing in bad weather safer is good news for both the aviation industry and for passengers. According to data from the United States Department of Transportation, inclement weather is the cause for more than 40 percent of delays in flights in the United States. In a recent FAA study it was revealed that the cost of delays and cancellation of flights could be as high as $6.7 billion a year.

By means of an infrared camera mounted on the nose of an airplane, the new technology will enable the pilot to see potential obstacles, such as air-traffic control towers and mountains, which would usually be obscured by bad weather conditions. Using Global Positioning System data, the camera and cockpit screen will provide real-time infrared camera images to aid pilots in making a safe landing.

Larisa Parks of Honeywell International, the developers and manufacturers of the new technology, noted that pilots would be able to see the runway upon approach, regardless of what visibility conditions may be like. The improved visibility would allow pilots to reduce the landing minimum from its current limit of an altitude of 200 feet to 100 feet. Chief pilot of corporate aviation for Honeywell, Ronald Weight, noted that pilots make the decision on whether to attempt landing in bad weather, or divert to another airport, based on whether they can see the runway clearly enough with the naked eye. The new technology of the enhanced vision system will make the runway clearly visible to pilots giving them the advantage of being able to land safely in conditions which may have previously led them to divert.

In addition to the enhanced vision system of the infrared camera, Honeywell has a comprehensive database of runways, along with 90,000 images and positions of man-made and natural obstacles. The goal is to use the two technologies – enhanced vision system and synthetic vision system – to make landing in bad weather a safer experience. This will also cut costs of diverting to alternative airports, or delays and cancellations of flights due to bad weather.

Next Page »