FAA Faces Multiple Challenges in Drone Regulation

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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.

Streamlining Air Traffic Management with GBAS

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With the aim of simplifying air traffic management and making the airport more efficient, Australia’s Sydney Airport recently unveiled its ground-based augmentation system (GBAS) manufactured and marketed by Honeywell as the SmartPath® Precision Landing System. As a joint project of Qantas and Airservices, the GBAS has been tested on more than 750 Airbus A380 and Boeing 737-800 approaches since December 2012, leading up to the launch of the system which was attended by Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, Airservices acting CEO Mark Rodwell, Quantas chief financial officer Gareth Evans, Honeywell Aerospace representative Brian Davis and Sydney Airport CEO Kerrie Mather.

Evans noted that the system would be beneficial to Quantas, which was the first airline to take delivery of a GBAS-enabled aircraft in 2005. With Sydney Airport receiving international and domestic Quantas flights around the clock, it is anticipated that, over time, the fuel savings to the carrier will be significant. As the system is installed in other airports around Australia, these savings will become even more meaningful.

Using a ground-based transmitter, the GBAS provides GPS positioning data to the GBAS-enabled flight management system of approaching aircraft, allowing for precision approach and landing, within a meter of the runway center line. One GBAS has the capability of facilitating up to 26 instrument approaches simultaneously within a radius of 42 km. Also, the GBAS is not prone to noise signal interference, with maintenance being less expensive than the current instrument landing system (ILS). The use of this state-of-the-art technology promises increased airport capacity, a reduction in weather-related delays and a decrease in air traffic noise, all of which translates into reducing costs for the aviation industry.

In the United States, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is working with the International GBAS Working Group (IGWG), as are numerous other countries, in standardizing certification and procedures for the use of GBAS around the world.

IATA Promotes Aviation Safety

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With more than 470 international organizations submitting data, and participation from over 90% of IATA member carriers, the Global Aviation Data Management (GADM) initiative aims to provide the aviation industry with a comprehensive airline operational database to facilitate a proactive approach in analyzing trends and managing risks. At the recent IATA (International Air Transport Association) OPS Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Director General and CEO Tony Tyler called on the aviation industry and governments to use data analysis in addressing issues related to aviation safety. Certainly, the ongoing search for Malaysian Airways Flight MH370 highlights the need for consistent vigilance in ensuring the safety of crews and passengers on every single commercial airplane that takes to the skies.

In quoting some statistics, Tyler revealed that in 2013 more than 29 million flights were carried out on Western-built jet aircraft. Twelve of those flights crashed, meaning that there was one accident for every 2.4 million flights, reflecting a 14.6 percent improvement on the industry’s five-year average. This shows that accidents are rare, but nonetheless the MH370 incident is a reminder that there should never be complacency with aircraft safety. While pointing out that no one should jump to conclusions before the investigation closes, there are two areas that need to be addressed, being tracking of aircraft in flight and accurate passenger records.

General consensus among observers is that with the technology of today, where surveillance of individuals has raised privacy concerns, it seems ludicrous that an entire aircraft could disappear, apparently without a trace. Noting that authorities cannot let another aircraft simply vanish”, Tyler stated that the IATA will be convening an expert task force, including participation from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), to examine all available options for tracking commercial aircraft. The deadline for the report will be set for December 2014.

Acknowledging the high level of competition within the aviation industry, Tyler noted that irrespective of commercial issues, the industry needs to be “absolutely unified in its dedication to global standards and safety.”

Drone Development Moves Ahead

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As the controversy regarding unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as unmanned aircraft systems or drones, for commercial use continues, the development of drones moves ahead unabated, with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently announcing its approval of six locations to carry out drone research, three of which are universities – the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Virginia Tech, and Texas A&M University. The general public may have associated drones with the military in the past, but with the November 2013 appearance of Amazon.com’s CEO Jeff Bezos on 60 Minutes where he announced that his company is looking at using drones for deliveries, unmanned aircraft have become a much discussed topic, and raised a number of concerns regarding privacy and safety.

Drones come in all shapes and sizes, and are already widely used in industry and surveillance, as well as in search and rescue operations. Currently 56 government agencies have permission to operate drones within 63 designated drone sites in the United States, besides the six new locations earmarked for drone research. An example of surveillance application of a drone is the MQ-9 Reaper manufactured by General Atomics which is used to patrol the borders of the United States to detect drug dealers and illegal immigrants. In industry small drones, or nano-drones, are routinely used to access areas too small or too dangerous for humans to enter.

Other current and proposed uses for drones include spraying of pesticides on farms; herding and monitoring of livestock (which is reportedly already happening in England), forest fire detection (already being used in France); conservation surveillance of wildlife (already being used in Kenya and Nepal); mapping of land in high-resolution photographs and videos; delivering aid in rural and underdeveloped areas (a project supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation); and monitoring archeological sites to prevent vandalism and theft.

While drones may be unmanned, they are not autonomous – yet. Drones must be remote controlled by a trained operator and may not fly above a height determined by the authorities in the area. This is an obstacle Amazon.com will need to overcome if their drone delivery system, dubbed Amazon Prime Air, is to be efficient and cost effective. The FAA is set to revise its regulations regarding drones by 2015 and the aviation authority has predicted that there will be up to 20,000 active drones in the US by 2017, an estimate that many consider to be very conservative. Privacy and safety issues will no doubt continue to be raised, and hopefully addressed, in the coming years as drones become more commonplace.

US Sport Aviation Expo 2014

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The US Sport Aviation Expo will take place on 16-19 January 2014 at Sebring Regional Airport. The event’s slogan “the place to see, try, fly and buy … all that is sport aviation” says it all. With more tha 160 exhibitors and thousands of visitors, the Sebring US Sport Aviation Expo is the place to see the latest products, trends and technologies. For more information visit www.sebring-airport.com

Dates: 16-19 Jan 2014
Venue: Sebring Regional Airport
City: Sebring
State: Florida
Country: United States

The Bird Aviation Museum and Invention Center

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Located in Sagle, Idaho, the Bird Aviation Museum and Invention Center showcases the historic achievements of early aviators and innovators who laid the groundwork for modern technology, particularly in relation to aviation. Visitors to the museum will find superbly restored and displayed aircraft from the private collection belonging to the cente’s founder, Dr. Forrest Bird, as well as a range of other aviation-related items, along with inventions within the medical field.

The aircraft collection includes a 1968 Bell 47 (G3B-2) which, with its bulbous cockpit allowing superb visibility, is an excellent search and rescue helicopter. The 1977 Bell IFR212 helicopter in the collection has been used extensively by Dr Bird in his aeromedical research and has been soundproofed to the extent that a stethoscope can be used while in flight. The collection contains two 1938 Piper J3C-65s – one on Edo straight floats and the other on wheels, with the latter being Dr Bird’s father’s airplane. The Piper on floats spends the summer on Lake Pend Orielle, with the winter months spent suspended from the ceiling in a helicopter hangar for the public to view.

A 1967 Alon A-2 has been completely restored with extra fuel capacity and folding wings being added at the time. The airplane can be transported by trailer with the wings folded, and be ready for flight within a few minutes of being unloaded. Other airplanes in the collection include a 1980 Cessna TU206G; a 1947 Republic RC-7 “Sea Bee”; a North American AT-6; a De Havilland DHC-1B-2-S5; a 1940 Boeing B75N1 Stearman; a 1927 WACO model GXE-10; and a 1939 Beech Aircraft Company model F-17-D “Staggerwing”.

The National Inventors Hall of Fame pays homage to innovative designers whose inventions have contributed to the welfare of their fellow human beings, with Dr Forrest M Bird being among these for his design of a fluid control device, respirator, and a pediatric ventilator credited with reducing respiratory-related infant mortality rates ten-fold.

The Bird Aviation Museum and Invention Center is open during the summer months Mondays to Saturdays between 8 am and 4 pm and on Mondays to Fridays during the winter. Entrance is free of charge and there is a gift shop and café for refreshments.

Advances in Avionics Improve Safety

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American aerospace and defense contractor, Raytheon, has developed a wearable computer and monocle display to increase pilot situational awareness to the extent that the pilot may feel like he is “flying in a glass ball”, according to the company’s business development manager for the new Advanced Distributed Aperture System (ADAS), Trevor Bushell. The new wearable computer technology enables pilots to see through dust storms, and even see through the floor of their aircraft, according to a Raytheon spokesperson. This is achieved, in part, with maps and videos via the computer strapped to the pilot’s wrist.

Former V-22 Osprey pilot turned Raytheon engineer, Todd Lovell, notes that the aviation industry is moving into an era of “cutting edge pilot capabilities”. Key visual data is presented to the pilot in a heads-up manner via a monocle placed in front of the pilot’s eye. 3D audio in the pilot’s helmet allows him to hear where hostile fire is coming from, while a state-of-the-art system of exterior sensors provides circular vision, even when normal vision is compromised, such as in dust storms.

High-resolution infrared and near-infrared images are delivered to the pilot and crew by the Advanced Distributed Aperture System, allowing pilots a view beyond the floor and walls of the aircraft. This can prove invaluable particularly for helicopters required to land in darkness or when the pilot’s view is compromised by bad weather conditions.

With avionics continually advancing, trade shows such as the upcoming Avionics Europe in Munich, Germany, on 20-21 February 2013, perform a vital role in keeping key players in the aerospace industry informed. One of the topics for discussion on the Avionics Europe conference program is the much debated topic of Head Up vs Head Down displays for pilots. Other topics on the agenda include Global Market Challenges for Avionics; Air & Ground Surveillance; Safety & Security; Cockpit Control & Displays, Retrofits, Upgrades & Derivatives; and Helicopter Technologies. Among the exhibitors at the event include Airbus, Avionics Intelligence, Euroavionics, Northcorp Grumman, Barco Avionics, Institute of Flight Systems Dynamics, Techsat, Institute of Flight Systems and many more.

Algae-oil Based Biofuel for Aviation Industry

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With the increasing demand for a cleaner burning aviation fuel obtained from renewable resources, Airbus recently signed a deal at the 9th China International Air Show in Zhuhai, with Chinese natural gas supplier ENN Group to develop alternative fuels, including fuel derived from algae oil. Extracted, processed and refined from algae, algae oil is considered to be one of the most promising biofuel products being developed for the aviation industry. Depending on the results of a Sino-US feasibility study, a test flight using the biofuel will take place in China in 2013. ENN has the capacity to produce more than ten tons of algae oil-based jet fuel annually.

High oil-output algae was initially considered as an alternative to fossil fuels back in 1978, under the presidency of Jimmy Carter. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory conducted research which tested more than 3,000 different types of algae, the conclusion being that algae oil-based fuel could be used in place of fossil fuels for heating homes and running transportation. But when the gas crisis which had resulted in high prices and long queues at the gas pumps passed, and carbon emissions were not an issue back then, the need for alternative fuels was no longer urgent.

Today, several government agencies and private companies are supporting projects to make the production of algae oil-based fuel more commercially viable. Although harvested algae releases CO2 when burned, the CO2 is reabsorbed by the growing algae. Referred to as ‘algaculture’ the commercial cultivation of algae can be carried out on land that would not have been used for agriculture, so the product is not competing for land that could be used for food crops, which is a concern with some other biofuel products. Other advantages of cultivating algae for fuel are that they can be grown in ocean water as well as certain grades of wastewater. Also, they are biodegradable, burn cleaner and will not pose the same level of risk to the environment as fossil fuels if spilled.

A report by the United States Department of Energy has estimated that to produce sufficient algae-based fuel to replace all the petroleum-based fuel in the United States would only require the equivalent of around 15,000 square miles of land, or 0.42 percent of the United States. But, while space is not a problem, cost is, and this is one of the main issues to be addressed. It’s not so much a question of whether the product can be produced and whether it works, but whether it will be commercially viable.

Citation Ten Puts Cessna Back in Top Spot as Fastest Civil Aircraft

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Cessna Aircraft Corporation recently announced that its Citation Ten has reclaimed the top spot as the fastest civil airplane with a maximum Mach of 0.935. Cessna’s Citation X held the fastest speed record at a maximum Mach of 0.92 before being overtaken by the Gulfstream G650 business jet with a Mach of 0.925. With the capability of traveling at 93.5 percent of the speed of sound, or almost 700 mph, the Citation Ten has pushed the G650 into second place, proving that as technology advances, records are made to be broken.

In addition to the increase in speed that the Cessna Citation Ten offers over the Citation X, the new aircraft boasts an increase in both payload capacity and range. The Citation Ten will have a range of 3,242 nautical miles, being an increase of close to 200 miles compared with the Citation X, and a payload increase of around 200 pounds.

In an interview relating to the announcement of the new speed record, Cessna President and CEO Scott Ernest noted that the founder of the Cessna Aircraft Corporation, Clyde Cessna, believed that ‘speed is the only reason for flying’ and Cessna pursues the goal of designing, manufacturing and flying the fastest civil aircraft in the world so that their customers can work faster and more efficiently. Chip Ganassi of Chip Ganassi Racing, which reportedly currently operates a Citation X, agrees with this sentiment, noting that his teams compete in almost seventy races each year, and their aircraft “shrinks the map” for him, allowing him more time at the tracks and with his teams.

The Citation Ten will be powered by the new Rolls-Royce AE3007C2 engines featuring redesigned fan blades to deliver more thrust. The aircraft boasts a Garmin G5000 integrated Flight Deck with three 14-inch LCD screens and four touch screen control panels offering user-friendly ease of access. The interior of the Citation Ten allows more legroom and space to recline, and features more storage space. Takeoff distance is 5,150 feet, with landing distance at 3,430 ft and maximum operating altitude of 51,000 feet. As with all Cessna aircraft, the Citation Ten is backed by the after sales service that Cessna is well known for.

Sustainable Biofuels in Aviation

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With greenhouse gases and climate change continuing to be in the spotlight, over the past decade aircraft manufacturers have made a number of improvements in aerodynamics and the development of lighter construction materials, all of which make a contribution to fuel efficiency. The Airbus A380 entered service with Singapore Airlines in October 2007, and two months later the CEO noted that the plane dubbed by the media as the Superjumbo was performing beyond the expectations of the airline and the manufacturer, by burning up to 20 percent less fuel per passenger than the Boeing 747-400 aircraft in Singapore Airline’s fleet.

While aerodynamics and composite materials play a role in fuel efficiency, the engines powering the planes hold the key to meaningful fuel savings. Engine manufacturers are also in the position to promote the move to sustainable biofuels. In a recently reported interview, Vice President of technology and environment for US-based engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, Alan H. Epstein, noted that because the aviation industry has made the drop-in fuel concept a reality, the change to sustainable biofuels can be facilitated without compromising engine efficiency or safety. Epstein pointed out that few people are aware of the fact that jet fuel varies significantly around the world, so when refueling at a foreign airport, an airplane will be making use of different fuel, or a blend of its original fuel and the new fuel. Taking this into account, the biofuel that has been tested may be considered to be a better option than petroleum based jet-fuels, but only if the composition of biofuel around the world is uniform.

The current requirement for biofuel is a 50 percent mix with fossil fuels, and while tests have been run with significantly higher concentrations of biofuels, the 50-50 specification is likely to remain for the foreseeable future. With regard to crops for biofuels impacting negatively on food crops, Epstein noted that defining biofuels as “sustainable” means at the very least that its production will not interfere with food production, food prices and water. Conceding that with current technology it would take land the size of Europe to grow biofuels for Europe’s aviation industry, Epstein said that finding ways of making more biofuel in a sustainable way is up to biological technology, not engine or airplane technology, which is already capable of utilizing biofuels efficiently.

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