FAA Approves Limited UAS Use
Six photo and video production companies have received permission from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in their work in television and film production.
The companies were granted regulatory exemptions that will allow them to operate in the National Airspace System without certificates of airworthiness, which the FAA says will not be required because the aircraft “do not pose a threat to national airspace users or national security.”
The companies requested, and received, exemptions from regulations involving general flight rules, pilot certificate requirements, manuals, maintenance and equipment mandates, the FAA said, adding that it would issue certificates of waiver or authorization that also set forth specific flight rules and require timely reports of incidents and accidents.
“To receive the exemptions, the firms had to show their UAS operations would not adversely affect safety or would provide at least an equal level of safety to the rules from which they seek the exemptions,” the agency said.
The companies agreed that their UAS operators would hold private pilot certificates. All flights will be conducted within the operator’s line of sight and will be restricted to the “sterile area” on the television or movie set, the FAA said. Other conditions include day-only operations and aircraft inspections before each flight.
“We are thoroughly satisfied these operations will not pose a hazard to other aircraft or to people and property on the ground,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
The FAA, which is continuing to develop regulations governing UAS operations, is considering 40 similar requests for exemptions from other businesses.
Researchers from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and other government agencies have crash-tested a former Marine CH-46E Sea Knight to examine effects of the accident on 13 instrument-equipped crash dummies and two non-instrumented manikins.
The 45-ft (14-m) long black-and-white spotted helicopter was dropped from 30 ft into a bed of dirt during an early October test at NASA’s Langley Landing and Impact Research facility in Hampton, Virginia, U.S. The spotted fuselage was designed to aid in data collection and to help researchers determine how all parts of the fuselage responded to the crash, NASA said.
“The helicopter plowed into the dirt at about 30 mph [48 kph] — a severe but survivable crash, according to civilian and military standards,” said lead test engineer Martin Annett.
The test crash resembled another test performed earlier this year, Annett said, noting that a primary difference was that, this time, the helicopter came to an abrupt stop with minimal sliding.
“Because it came to an abrupt stop, there’s a lot more load or jerking motion that gets imparted in the longitudinal direction, forward and backward,” he said.
The crash was designed to enable a number of experiments, all aimed at designing safer helicopters, NASA said. Forty cameras and on-board computers with 350 data channels recorded all movements of the helicopter and its dummy passengers.
The helicopter had been outfitted with three energy-absorbing composite materials — concepts developed by NASA and the Australian Cooperative Research Center for Advanced Composite Structures — which were installed beneath the passenger floor, NASA said. When the helicopter was dropped, Annett said, the cameras recorded unexpected motion that he described as “an excessive shearing action that almost slipped the entire floor instead of crushing the subfloor like we anticipated.”
NASA said it would use the results of the experiments in its efforts to improve rotorcraft performance and efficiency, and to create better computer models to be used in designing safer helicopters.
Aircraft Tracking Service
Aireon, a developer of automatic dependent surveillance–broadcast (ADS-B) systems, says it plans to provide free global aircraft tracking in emergencies.
The Aireon Aircraft Locating and Emergency Response Tracking service will allow search and rescue agencies to request the location and the last flight track of any aircraft that is equipped with 1090-MHz ADS-B and is flying in airspace that has no air traffic surveillance, according to a plan announced by the company and NAV Canada.
“A comprehensive global aircraft tracking solution is essential in emergency situations, as evidenced by [Malaysia Airlines Flight] 370 earlier this year and Air France [Flight] 447 in 2009,” said Aireon President and CEO Don Thoma. A search is continuing in the southern Indian Ocean for the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that disappeared March 8 with 239 people aboard; the Air France Airbus A330 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009, but its flight recorders were not located for nearly two years.
The emergency locator service will become available after Aireon’s ADS-B surveillance capability is fully operational, probably in 2017. The service will be available through an emergency call center, the company said.
“Historical track data will be available to pre-authorized users, including ANSPs [air navigation service providers], airlines, and search and rescue authorities … soon after controller communications are lost with an aircraft, and the system can also provide real-time tracking of aircraft in distress, provided ADS-B transmissions are still operational,” the company said.
Aireon is a joint venture involving Iridium Communications and air traffic control providers in Canada, Italy, Ireland and Denmark.
EASA Allows Broader PED Use
European airlines have been given the go-ahead to allow passengers to use some portable electronic devices (PEDs) during flight.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) says airlines may make their own decisions about whether to allow the use of PEDs, without putting them in “airplane mode,” in all phases of flight; cell phones may be used after landing.
EASA said that each airline “will have to go through an assessment process, ensuring aircraft systems are not affected in any way by the transmission signals from the PEDs. For this reason, there may be differences among airlines [about] whether and when PEDs can be used.”
Previous requirements, adopted in December 2013, allowed PEDs to be used in airplane mode during almost all phases of flight.
First Fatalities in 3 Years
Preliminary data show that, despite an overall decline in 2013 in the number of accidents involving U.S. civil aircraft, the year also saw the first fatal commercial air transport accident in three years that involved a U.S.-registered airplane.
Preliminary accident statistics released by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) show that the total number of civil aviation accidents fell to 1,297 in 2013, down from 1,539 accidents in 2012.
The number of accidents involving scheduled U.S. Federal Aviation Regulations Part 121 (commercial air transport) operations declined, but the Aug. 14, 2013, crash of a UPS Airbus A300-600 in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S., was the first fatal accident in that category in three years. The crash killed both pilots — the only people in the airplane (see “Sooo Tired”).
The crash of another commercial airliner — an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777-ER in San Francisco on July 6 — that killed three passengers was not included in the NTSB statistics because it was a foreign-registered aircraft operating under Part 129.
The preliminary data also showed eight crashes involving Part 135 commuter operations in 2013 (up from four accidents in 2012), including three fatal accidents. There also were increases in crashes and fatalities involving Part 135 on-demand operations — including charter, air taxi, air tour and air medical flights — with 44 total accidents, 10 fatal accidents and 27 fatalities. The accident rate increased to 1.24 per 100,000 flight hours, up from 0.99 per 100,000 in 2012.
General aviation accidents decreased in 2013 to 1,222, down from 1,471 accidents in 2012. Decreases also were recorded in 2013 for fatal accidents (221) and fatalities (387), as well as the accident rate of 5.85 per 100,000 flight hours.
NextGen ‘Call to Action’
To achieve full safety benefits associated with the upgrade of the U.S. airspace, its users must work together to ensure that all aircraft in controlled airspace are equipped with automatic dependent surveillance–broadcast (ADS-B) avionics, a top U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) official says.
Deputy FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in September that the FAA has built the foundation for ADS-B, and now, “it is time for all users of the national airspace — avionics suppliers, aircraft integrators, operators and installers — to work together to ensure that all aircraft flying in controlled airspace are equipped with these NextGen avionics. The full benefits of increased safety and efficiency of the national airspace depend on 100 percent equipage.”
Regulations require that all aircraft operating in specific controlled airspace must be equipped with ADS-B Out avionics by 2020. These systems transmit data, including aircraft identity, position and speed, from aircraft to ground stations and to other aircraft equipped with ADS–B receivers.
The FAA already has completed the ADS-B ground infrastructure with the deployment of 634 radio stations.
Gulfstream Aerospace is facing a proposed $425,000 civil penalty for what the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says was a failure to comply with regulations concerning the training of aircraft mechanics.
Some Gulfstream mechanics “did not complete required training within time limits established in its FAA-approved training manual, and they missed numerous training deadlines,” the FAA said. “Additionally, after reviewing employee training records, FAA inspectors could not determine whether some of the employees completed training or whether the records were inaccurate. The FAA also alleges that Gulfstream allowed mechanics to maintain aircraft when they had not completed required training.”
The agency said that it identified the discrepancies during inspections in November 2009 and March 2010.
Gulfstream has 30 days from its receipt of the FAA civil penalty letter to respond.
In Other News …
Eurocontrol and the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) Agency have agreed to a plan to develop GNSS technology to “improve accessibility, efficiency and safety” in European aviation. Plans include a new focus on aviation-specific GNSS performance monitoring and international promotion of European aviation-related GNSS activities. … The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has adopted a new plan intended to streamline the aircraft certification process. The FAA says the plan will allocate resources according to a project’s safety benefits and complexity and provide the agency’s commitment to a response time for completion of the project review.
Bart J. Crotty … Aviation safety/security consultant Bart J. Crotty, a former director of aviation safety services for Flight Safety Foundation, died Sept. 21. He was 79. During a career that spanned more than four decades, he worked as a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration airworthiness inspector and trainer and a designated airworthiness representative; at various times, he also worked for repair stations, airlines, an aircraft manufacturer, law firms, safety organizations and several non-U.S. civil aviation authorities.
Compiled and edited by Linda Werfelman.