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Airbus Helicopters (the leader in the global civil helicopter market) have confirmed that they are developing a new image processing system that will be able to detect a helipad and perform automatic approaches and landings.

The new system, "Eye for Autonomous Guidance and Landing Extension", or “Eagle” will be able to perform in challenging conditions, thus improving the safety of aircraft. It is hoped it will reduce pilot workload at a critical stage of flight and in the most demanding environments and conditions, benefitting search and rescue (SAR) operations and in future, unmanned vehicles. 

The system can spot the “H” marking on a helipad then uses three high resolution cameras to create a stabilized high-definition image. Processing units and on-board video analytics are used to compute such parameters as direction, distance and elevation and the “H” is tracked, with the information shown to the crew, at the moment, on a conventional display.

The first flight using the Eagle system is expected to take place this week. The system has been undergoing ground tests since May of this year and could possibly enter the market by the end of the decade.

Last week the US House of Representatives voted to extend FAA funding for another six months, by a vote of 264 to 155.

The extension, which was set to expire on September 30th, allows more time for debating whether air traffic control (ATC) should be privatized - although it should be noted that the bill itself does not include provisions to privatize the running of ATC and remove it from FAA control. This could be voted upon separately in October, as a previous attempt to vote on the extension under suspended rules was blocked over bipartisan opposition to added flood insurance, hurricane relief and health care provisions.

Supporters of ATC privatization believe that it would be a benefit not to have to debate this annual funding, however many of those in opposition feel that privatization would result in the airline industry having too much control over the system.

Mark Baker, President and CEO of AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) who oppose the ATC legislation stated:

 “AOPA will continue mobilizing pilots and working with elected officials to ensure we don’t give away our skies to the airlines and instead focus on continuing efforts to modernize air traffic control.”

AOPA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Jim Coon added:

“A few people in Washington may support this idea but most folks outside of Washington are strongly opposed. It’s not privatization first of all, there’s is no innovation or competitive bidding here. It’s simply a total giveaway to the airlines and special interests and if you think that is good for GA, then we need to talk.”

President of GAMA (The General Aviation Manufacturers Association), Pete Bunce said:

 “GAMA urges Congress to now focus on passing bipartisan, consensus-driven FAA reauthorization legislation that addresses many critical aviation issues, such as aircraft certification reform and continued implementation of on-schedule modernization programs. They should reject air traffic control privatization proposals, including Title II of H.R. 2997, which are divisive, distracting and fraught with risks."

The latest funding will keep the agency afloat until March 31st, 2018 which should avoid a repeat of the situation in 2013 when air traffic controllers were laid off and flights were delayed due to cuts in FAA funding.

Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a new bio-jet fuel produced from sugarcane. Funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E), scientists from the University believe that the strain of sugarcane they have been working on could produce up to 15 times more jet fuel per hectare, compared to that yielded by soybeans.

The research, known as the “Plants Engineered to Replace Oil in Sugarcane and Sweet Sorghum” project (PETROSS) has developed sugarcane that produces oil, called lipidcane, rather than sugar. This oil can then be converted into biodiesel or jet-A fuel. With 20% being the theoretical maximum level of oil, all of its sugar would be replaced by oil and would therefore produce 15 times more jet fuel than is currently produced from soybeans.

The University researchers are now working on trying to make the sugarcane more tolerant to the cold, so that it could be grown on land in the Southeast US that is currently not used for agriculture.  If grown on these 23 million acres, researchers believe it could supply around 65% of US jet-A consumption. While this is good news, the downside is that the estimated price of this lipidcane-derived jet biofuel would be around $5.31 per gallon, lower than the price for renewable jet fuels produced from other oil crops but still over $3 per gallon more than current jet fuel prices.

 

The Career Intermission Program (CIP), launched by the United States Air Force (USAF) in 2014, will now permanently expand to allow airmen three chances each year to apply for a sabbatical of up to three years.

The dates for application to the program run from April 1 to May 13 (Cycle A), Aug. 1 to Sept. 12 (Cycle B), and Dec. 1 to Jan. 12 (Cycle C) each year. However this year, Cycle B will run from Sept. 22 to Oct. 31 to allow program changes to be made. Additionally, airmen with humanitarian needs such as dual-military married personnel can now apply for the program out of cycle.

When launched, up to 40 active duty, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard Officers and enlisted personnel who met the requirements, were offered a minimum of one and a maximum of three years intermission, during which they were put on Individual Ready Reserve status. Since its inception, 108 airmen have applied for and taken up the program to pursue personal or professional opportunities, such as raising a family or going back into education.

Airmen on their sabbatical receive one fifteenth of their monthly basic pay, as well as receiving their usual medical and dental coverage. In return, they are required to check in with their CIP manager once a month, maintain their health and fitness and be ready to fully resume their duties. For every month that they are on sabbatical, they must return to active duty for two months, meaning that an Airman taking the full three years would have to serve another six years after their break.

When they apply, an Airman’s potential to serve the Air Force in the future is evaluated. However the program is seen as a means of enhancing the retention of Airmen by preserving their valuable experience and training that might otherwise be lost if they had to choose between the service, or for instance, family commitments.

Adriana Bazan, military personnel specialist at the Air Force Personnel Center stated:  “The Career Intermission Program affords an avenue to meet the changing needs of today‘s service members....This work-life flexibility initiative will enable the Air Force to retain talent, which reduces cost and adverse impacts on the mission.”

British Airways (BA) recently announced they have partnered with Velocys, a renewable fuels company, after an earlier project with Solena which was scheduled to start production in 2017, didn’t materialise.

The original Solena project intended to use biofuels from a facility in East London to fuel BA’s London City flights but for a series of reasons, including a lack of Government support, the partnership failed to get underway. However, as the UK Government and the Department for Transport made changes to their Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO) on Sept. 14th - announcing they will now provide incentives to progress sustainable fuels - BA, whilst acknowledging they are at a very early stage in this new venture, feel that this is a significant step in the right direction.

Willie Walsh, CEO of BA’s parent company IAG stated that this new partnership intends to design “a series of waste plants that convert household waste into renewable jet fuel” to power its fleet. Using this fuel which is derived from waste biomass, BA hope the plants will produce enough fuel to power all of its Boeing 787 Dreamliner flights from London to San Jose, California and New Orleans, Louisiana for a year. This would contribute to BA’s commitment to reduce net emissions by 50% by 2050, as according to BA, this type of fuel will deliver around a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional fossil fuel.

In August, the NTSB released a Safety Alert entitled ‘Flying on Empty - Prevent the Preventable with Careful Fuel Management’. After investigating numerous fuel-related accidents, they have concluded that fuel exhaustion and fuel starvation continue to be leading causes in the list of top ten aviation accident occurrence categories. It ranks 6th on the list behind such categories as loss of control and system failure.

Between 2011 and 2015, there were on average 50 accidents per year caused by fuel management issues – 56% to do with fuel exhaustion and 35% fuel starvation. (Fuel exhaustion is the term for running out of fuel, whereas fuel starvation is where the fuel onboard isn’t reaching the engines).

In the Safety Alert, the NTSB stated that pilot complacency and overestimation of flying ability plays a role in fuel management accidents. This appears to be proved by the fact that 48% of pilots involved in this type of accident hold either a commercial or air transport pilot certificate, whereas only 2% were student pilots.

The Safety Alert goes on to state that “Running out of fuel or starving an engine of fuel is highly preventable”. It says that “Prudent pilot action” can help eliminate issues that contribute to these types of accidents and lists examples of what can be done. This includes visually confirming fuel quantities during pre-flight inspections and making sure there is a fuel reserve on every flight.

The full Safety Alert can be found here.

When President Donald Trump announced the projected cost  of new Air Force One aircrafts was too high, the U.S. Air Force (who oversee both the acquisition and operation of the aircraft) initially found a way to slash expenditure by buying a pair of Boeing 747-8 jets ordered, but never delivered to, a bankrupt Russian airline.

President Trump wants to save $1 billion on the estimated $4.2 billion replacement of the pair of 747’s currently in use as the “flying White House”, therefore further cost-cutting moves have been put forward by the Air Force. These include a proposal to eliminate the ability to refuel in flight. Although the current aircraft have allegedly never made use of the capability, the argument is that while it has always been considered an essential security feature (for keeping the president in the air and out of the way during an emergency), the latest jets have a range of nearly 1,800 nautical miles, which will allow them to take the President nonstop from Washington to almost anywhere in the world.   

Other ways of cutting costs that are being considered consist of using largely commercial interior furnishings (rather than custom made) and negotiating better deals with Boeing and their subcontractors for seats and other items inside the planes. Additionally, the air handling system will probably remain as an off the shelf commercial system, rather than the upgrade previously proposed.  

In a briefing last year to then President elect Trump, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg stated: “Understandably, all these modifications and customizations, implemented in the appropriately secure facility with all personnel cleared to the highest level, drive considerable cost into the aircraft...”

However, what the Air Force is unlikely to cut costs on are the secure communications, self-defense systems and electrical systems powerful enough to support all the systems. With engineers still figuring out the design, layout and costings, work on the presidential transport isn’t likely to even start until 2019.

According to statistics released by the U.S. FAA, the total number of Category A and B runway incursions dropped dramatically for the fiscal year 2017, which runs through to the end of September.

A runway incursion, as described by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), is any unauthorized presence on a runway. Category A is defined as “a serious incident in which a collision was narrowly avoided” and Category B as “an incident in which separation decreases and there is a significant potential for collision, which may result in time-critical corrective/evasive response to avoid a collision.”

The total number of Category A and B incursions has declined to six for 2017, two of which involved commercial aircraft but with the vast majority falling into Categories C and D, which pose no risk of collision. In comparison, in the fiscal year 2000 a total of sixty seven Category A and B incursions occurred, forty three of which involved commercial aircraft. However whilst the numbers then dropped for the next 10 years, there has been a year on year increase in the last three years, culminating in nineteen events in 2016.  

The FAA have stated that reducing runway risk is a top priority, with the most serious A and B Category incursions obviously being the emphasis. One way the agency is trying to reduce incidents is with training, safety management systems and by developing runway status light technology (RWSL). Currently being used at eleven US airports, this is an in-pavement airport light which illuminates red at taxiway/runway crossings to signal a potentially unsafe situation.

In addition to their basic pay (a rate determined by their rank's Department of Defense pay grade), airmen in the United States Air Force are eligible for a variety of supplemental payments and allowances including flight pay, combat pay and food and housing allowances. For the first time since 1999, on October 1st flight pay, which will now be known as Air Crew Incentive Pay, will increase from $840 a month to $1,000 a month for officers and from $400 a month to $600 a month for enlisted aircrew.

As well as the pay increase, the Air Force is also increasing the eligibility for its Aviation Bonus Program. This Program offers retention bonuses of up to $35,000 a year for pilots who stay in the service. It will now include airmen who are not currently under service contracts, those who have never signed up for a retention bonus in the past, and those whose contracts may have expired.

The announcement of the pay increases and Bonus Program was made by Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson as part of an effort to stop the exodus of experienced military pilots to the airline industry. Military pilots have the training and flight hours necessary to fly for the major airlines, without having to work for smaller regional airlines first. The major airlines also offer a higher salary than the Air Force and in 2007, the FAA increased the mandatory retirement age for pilots to 65, giving them a longer and therefore more lucrative career path.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson stated:

“We have a number of positions around the Air Force that require the expertise of someone who has been a military pilot, and we’d like to be able to keep our pilots who are current in the aircraft, in the aircraft, and try to fill some of these vital flight slots with people who have the experience needed but who have subsequently retired from the service.”

Wilson also announced that Brig. Gen. Mike Koscheski has been put in charge of its Air Crew Crisis Task Force which concentrates on solving the problem of pilot retention.

Further reading: The USAF look into pilot sharing with the major airlines

Alan Joyce, the chief executive of Qantas has challenged Airbus and Boeing, the world’s largest aeroplane makers, to build a jet that could fly from Sydney to London, nonstop.

The Australian airline wants a Boeing 777X or Airbus A350ULR to be able to cover the 9,000 mile, 20 hour trip, without a stop for fuel and with a full load of paying passengers or cargo. Currently airplanes can almost cover the distance but not with a full payload.

"This is a last frontier in global aviation," Joyce announced last week to investors, at the same time as reporting the company’s quarterly results.

A direct flight would take around four hours less than on today’s flights which at the moment have to stop for fuel. “We believe advances in the next few years will close the gap, and Qantas has the unique operational experience to be the airline that helps make it happen,” Joyce said. “This would be one of the most strategically important aircraft orders in the history of Qantas.”

Qantas is hoping to be able to undertake routes from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane by 2022 and has dubbed the campaign “Project Sunrise” in reference to the double sunrise flights operated by the airline in World War II.

Whilst the airline currently hold the record for the world’s longest flight - its Dallas-Fort Worth to Sydney service takes around 17 hours to cover the 8,500 mile trip – from next year Emirates plan to beat this with a Dubai to Panama City service.

In light of the close call last month when an Air Canada Airbus A320 aborted its landing at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Federal regulators have made significant changes to landing procedures and control tower staffing levels.

According to the NTSB, just before midnight on July 7th, Air Canada Flight 759 had been cleared to land on Runway 28-Right but instead lined up its approach for the parallel taxiway. The plane had travelled almost a quarter of a mile over the taxiway and flew as close as 30ft to another aircraft before the pilot aborted his landing. United Airlines pilots in one of the waiting planes alerted air traffic controllers (ATC) of the imminent collision and other planes on the taxiway turned on their landing lights as warning.

The Air Canada flight crew told investigators that as Runway 28-Left was closed and in the dark, their sight-line was shifted to the right, causing them to believe Taxiway C which runs parallel to Runway 28-Right, was their approved runway.  

The new policies implemented by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mean that visual approaches for aircraft approaching SFO at night with an adjacent parallel runway closed, are no longer allowed. Pilots will therefore be required to do an instrument landing using the runway’s advanced guidance systems.

Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman said:

"When these conditions prevail, our controllers (will) issue pilots Instrument Landing System approaches or satellite-based approaches, which help pilots line up for the correct runway."

In addition, the FAA have required two air traffic controllers to be on duty throughout the late-night arrival rush. Although two controllers were working on the night of 7th July, only one was in the tower, and he was busy at the time talking to another facility. Ian Gregor added:

 “Following the event, SFO tower management adopted a policy requiring two controllers to be on position working traffic until the late-night arrival rush is over.”

In a few months time, the FAA also plans to begin testing modified radar systems at its Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City. Although these systems were originally designed to prevent runway rather than taxiway incursions, they would allow a facility's ground surveillance systems to alert ATC when an aircraft is attempting to land on a taxiway rather than a runway.

Further reading: Close call by Air Canada Plane