UAS Exemption Considered
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved the first commercial flights over land by unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The flights — by energy corporation BP and UAS manufacturer AeroVironment — were conducted for aerial surveys of BP pipelines, roads and equipment at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.
The first flight — by an AeroVironment Puma AE, a hand-launched vehicle with a 9-ft (3-m) wingspan — was conducted on June 8.
The FAA also is reviewing requests from seven aerial photo and video production firms for approval to begin operating UAS before the FAA proposes regulations for their use.
The companies have asked to be exempt from certain regulations involving pilot certificate requirements, manuals, maintenance, equipment mandates, aircraft certification and other flight rules, the FAA said. If the FAA agrees, the companies would be permitted to operate UAS aircraft in “narrowly defined, controlled, low-risk situations,” the agency said.
In a related development, the FAA said that the third of six UAS test sites had become operational. The site, operated by the state of Nevada, will conduct UAS flights from an airport in Mercury, Nevada, owned and operated by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Research at the site will focus on UAS standards and operations, operator standards, certification requirements and air traffic control procedures.
Two other sites — in North Dakota and Alaska — began operating earlier this year.
Landing Performance Assessments
Landing performance assessments should be mandatory before every landing of a transport category aircraft, the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA) says.
The agency included the recommendation in its final report on a Dec. 23, 2009, runway overrun accident in which an American Airlines Boeing 737-800 overran a wet runway at Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA) in Kingston, Jamaica, crashed through a fence and traveled across a road before stopping on sand dunes and rocks near the Caribbean Sea. Fourteen of the 154 people in the 737 were seriously injured and the airplane was destroyed.
In its final report, the JCAA said that the probable cause was that the airplane touched down 4,100 ft (1,251 m) beyond the threshold of the 8,922-ft (2,718-m) runway. Contributing factors included the decision to land on a wet runway with a 14-kt tailwind.
The JCAA recommended that landing performance assessments be conducted, “based on a standardized methodology involving approved performance data, actual arrival conditions, a means of correlating the airplane’s braking ability with runway surface conditions using the most conservative interpretation available and incorporating a minimum safety margin of 15 percent.”
The JCAA also recommended that operators of airports serving transport category airplanes include in their standard operating procedures a requirement that either pilot call for a go-around if he or she “sees that the aircraft will not land in the touchdown zone and that the other pilot will follow through with the go-around procedure without question or hesitation.”
Other recommendations included calls for more training in tailwind landings, which the JCAA said should be “firmly discouraged” if heavy rain is falling or runways are contaminated with standing water; for improvements in runway end safety areas at NMIA; and for expanded guidance from the International Civil Aviation Organization on determining the frequency of special runway surface condition inspections during or after heavy rain.
New Approach to Regulation
The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says it is moving toward “regulating in a more proportionate, effective and risk-based way,” using the safety management systems in place at airlines, airports and ground handling organizations to help identify areas that present the greatest risks to safety.
“Performance-based regulation takes our safety oversight to a new level,” Mark Swan, director of the CAA Safety and Airspace Regulation Group, said in early June. “By working hand-in-hand with the aviation industry, EASA [the European Aviation Safety Agency] and other national authorities to identify and manage risk effectively, we can concentrate our attention where it is most needed.”
Swan added that industry cooperation would ensure the success of the new regulatory effort.
The CAA said that the new system would help the agency measure “the true extent of the risks to U.K. passengers and the general public” and identify and implement appropriate actions to manage risks. One key element calls for cooperating with civil aviation authorities in other countries that could take action to mitigate risks to U.K. operations.
The agency expects to have a full performance-based regulation system in place by April 2016 but already has established several elements of the system, including a new method of safety oversight based on identified risks and safety performance and a series of risk-mitigation activities and associated safety projects. The CAA also has established requirements for “an integrated safety risk-reporting and management system to better inform strategic decisions made by the CAA Board and the allocation of resources to act on them.”
Proposed UAS Rules Change in Australia
The Australian Civil Aviation Safety Agency (CASA) has proposed allowing operators of small remotely piloted aircraft — also known as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) — to be flown in standard conditions without special approval from the agency.
“Standard conditions” involve flights within the operator’s line of sight, less than 400 ft above ground level, in non-populous areas, outside controlled airspace and more than 30 m (98 ft) from people and buildings.
The change would mean that UAS aircraft weighing less than 2 kg (4 lb) would no longer require an operator certificate or a remote pilot certificate, CASA said. The documents still would be required for UAS aircraft weighing more than 2 kg, the agency said.
CASA said it proposed the change because “small, remotely piloted aircraft have a very low kinetic energy and thus pose a low risk to people, property and airspace users.”
The agency was accepting comments on the proposal until mid-June.
In a related development, CASA is directing a new education campaign at operators of model aircraft, urging them to become more familiar with the rules governing their hobby.
CASA, in cooperation with 16 retailers that sell model aircraft, is distributing a fact sheet that emphasizes that model aircraft must be flown in standard conditions and must not be flown within 5.5 km (3.4 mi) of an airport. The fact sheet also stipulates that model aircraft may not be flown “for money or reward without an approval from CASA.”
CASA said that it “wants people to have fun flying their model aircraft, but it is important for everyone to be aware of the rules and to follow them. Even relatively small model or remotely piloted aircraft can cause injuries if not flown safely.”
Expanding on Flight Tracking
Proposals for enhancing global flight tracking should be ready for consideration by the aviation industry before the end of the year, two international aviation organizations say.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said that its member states and the international air transport industry agreed during a mid-May meeting on the “near-term priority to track airline flights, no matter their global location or destination.”
Near-term needs are being addressed by an aircraft-tracking task force coordinated by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which said that the task force will develop a set of recommendations, giving airlines several options.
The effort to identify and implement flight-tracking procedures was prompted by the March 8 disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing. The airplane, which carried 239 people, has not been found.
“Aviation stakeholders are united in their desire to ensure that we never face another situation where an aircraft simply disappears,” said Kevin Hiatt, IATA senior vice president for safety and flight operations.
ICAO said that it would consider performance-based international standards to ensure implementation of airline flight tracking worldwide and would work with the IATA task force to develop “a flight tracking concept of operations covering how the new tracking data gets shared, with whom and under what circumstances.”
RTCA’s NextGen Advisory Committee has narrowed 36 original “focus operational capabilities” from four years ago to four critical tasks in its latest advice to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): encouraging performance-based navigation (PBN) equipage, introducing NextGen surface operations, accelerating use of closely spaced parallel runways and increasing controller-pilot data link communication (CPDLC).
Specialists who briefed the RTCA 2014 Global Aviation Symposium called NextGen the FAA’s “top priority from a safety standpoint” but also noted unexpected agency workload related to factors such as flat/unstable funding, legislative mandate for National Airspace System integration of commercial unmanned aircraft systems (also known as remotely piloted aircraft) beginning in 2015, and potential upgrades in global tracking of airliners.
John Hickey, FAA deputy associate administrator for aviation safety, said NextGen “will be one of the biggest, most significant improvements in safety in the modern age.” PBN should nearly eliminate risks of unstable approaches and runway excursions, and CPDLC should minimize air-ground miscommunication and data-entry errors for predeparture clearances, he said.
An independent analysis of opportunities to gain immediate operational benefits is under way, said Lillian Ryals, director, senior vice president and general manager of the MITRE Corp. Center for Advanced Aviation System Development. “We need to focus on near-term wins … to show immediate returns [on investments] to keep everybody engaged to make long-term investments,” she said.
The simultaneous launch of 61 PBN instrument flight procedures for the Houston metroplex (ASW, 7–8/11, p. 28) stimulated enthusiasm, added Dale Wright, director, safety and technology, National Air Traffic Controllers Association. The FAA defines a metroplex as a system of airports, including at least one major commercial airport, in close proximity and with shared airspace. Elsewhere, presenters said, metroplexes have reported aircraft avoidance of terrain hot spots; reduced taxi-out times; fuel savings from flight-idle, optimized profile descents; reduced airport-noise footprints (but noise concentrated by the precise flight paths); and increased departure rates.
— Wayne Rosenkrans
In Other News …
The Air Line Pilots Association, International and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have expanded their campaign to raise awareness of the consequences of laser illumination of aircraft to include all 50 states. They say a test program involving 12 FBI field offices is responsible for a 19 percent decrease in laser incidents in those areas. … No fatal accidents related to air navigation services (ANS) have been recorded in Europe for more than three years, and the number of reported incidents in 2013 was the lowest in the past 11 years, according to a report by Eurocontrol’s independent Performance Review Commission. …A report from the U.S. National Research Council says improvements are needed in the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s model used in estimating the staffing requirements of air traffic control centers.
Compiled and edited by Linda Werfelman.