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On December 29, 2016, Ohio businessman John T. Fleming crashed his 2012 CJ4 shortly after taking off, killing himself, his wife, his sons, his neighbor and his neighbor’s daughter.  Now, the NTSB’s preliminary report is saying he had only received his type rating in the jet weeks before crashing it into Lake Erie. 

The report’s initial findings show Fleming passed his CE-525S single pilot check-ride on December 8 after training in the aircraft.  Fleming went on to complete a FlightSafety International training course in a simulator a little over a week later.

The group of family and friends were returning to Columbus after going to a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game.  After investigating Fleming’s communications with ATC at KBKL, it appears he received an IFR clearance for a route to Ohio State University Airport around 10:50pm, receiving taxi clearance to Runway 24R.  The NTSB report claimed the pilot then received a takeoff clearance and was told to turn right to a heading of 330 degrees and maintain 2,000 feet.  It is then reported that Fleming did not respond to a handoff to Cleveland Departure.  Data indicates the aircraft began the right turn, climbing to about 2,925 feet and five seconds later entered a descending right turn into the final data point. 

The aircraft was missing for days as harsh weather conditions delayed the search efforts.  Investigators are still working to complete their report as the cockpit voice recorder is currently under analysis.

The AAIB reported recently in a special bulletin that a failed bearing led to the recent incident involving a Sikorsky S-92 helicopter operating in the North Sea.

The S-92’s tail rotor pitch change shaft double row angular contact bearing was found in a “severely distressed condition” with signs of extreme wear, as well as signs of overheating.  Aviation investigators found that the barrel-shaped rollers seized to the inner member, amongst other things.  These aviation experts found the torsional load caused the primary piston rod to fracture inside the servo, leading to the separation of the secondary piston sleeve causing the loss of tail rotor control.

The bulletin went on to describe that the aircraft was descending to land on the West Franklin helideck, the aircraft yawed to the right and rolled to the left causing landing gear to contact the helideck at the same time.  The helicopter rotated more than 180 degrees before the operators were able to land the helicopter and shut it down.

Sikorsky quickly issued an alert service bulletin after the incident occurred, requiring all operators to perform a one-time inspection of the TRPCS and bearing assembly for ratcheting, binding and/or rough turning.  Additionally, the company is requiring operators to use S-92 HUMS ground station software to review tail rotor gearbox condition indicators on a reduced interval.

There were no injuries in the incident.

In 2016 Boeing, a United States airframer, disclosed it booked 669 net orders.  While these net orders equated to a value of about $94.1 billion, the company fell short of the 740-order goal that had been set for the year.

On the flip side, Boeing delivered 748 commercial jets last year, which did fall within its forecast of 745 - 750 deliveries.

Overall it was a successful year for Boeing, reporting 550 net orders for the 737 family.  The company also won orders for seventeen 747s, twenty six 767s, seventeen 777s and fifty eight 787s.  Aviation experts say that even with 180 cancelled orders in 2016, the fact that there were fifty eight orders for the 787 is a feat in itself when you consider all of the battery issues.

Additionally, 2017 appears to have commenced on a positive note, with Boeing announcing that India’s Spicejet have placed a new order for 100 737 Max 8’s. This is over and above a previously released contract for 43 jets. 

The White House recently released a report highlighting “hidden fees” in goods such as airline tickets and is spearheading the charge to eliminate or mitigate the growth of such fees.

The 16-page report was produced by the Obama Administration’s National Economic Council and is titled, “The Competition Initiative and Hidden Fees.”  The White House has long been vocal about its distaste for ancillary fees and the DOT currently regulates they must be disclosed, but this report is one of the first attempts at addressing the practice of add-on fees.

Airline fees like charges for checked bags and ticket change fees equaled almost $22.5 billion in 2015 alone.  Although the report highlighted other industries as well, it did call out airline fees in particular, stating fees like this merit independent consideration “based on their volume and in their regulation.”  While baggage fees and ticket changing fees may be optional, the report claims there is a very gray area between whether these fees are actually optional or potentially mandatory.

Aviation experts chimed in saying the airline industry, especially in the United States, is one of the most transparent industries out there.  

The Harvard School of Public Health have conducted the first study of its kind to probe pilot mental health directly, revealing over 12 percent of pilots (surveyed) may have clinical depression.

The study was conducted anonymously with mental health questions mixed in with other general health type questions.  Approximately 3,500 airline pilots took the survey and 1,848 answered the mental health questions.  This type of strategy was used in order to encourage more honest answers, whilst also reducing the chance for any bias.  In addition to the population of surveyed pilots who may be depressed, a little over four percent of respondents reporting having suicidal thoughts within the two weeks before completing the survey.

Some additional findings from the survey include the facts that pilots who took sleep aids or who reported sexual or verbal harassment were the most likely to be depressed. 

One of the grad student authors of the report explained how the survey is crucial to the importance of accurately assessing pilot mental health.

“Our study hints at the prevalence of depressions among pilots – a group of professionals that is responsible for thousands of lives every day,” Alex Wu said. 

From a human resources perspective, it is believed by many HR experts that this type of situation needs to be handled with care.  Some pilots may not be managing their depressive symptoms, or seeking treatment, for fear of negative career impacts. 

This study was released, coincidentally, just one year after a depressed first officer crashed a Germanwings A320 into the French Alps on purpose.

The UK government launched a consultation period on 21st December 2016 to analyse the use of unmanned air vehicles.

The government paper highlights a few different issues and is calling for responses to a number of proposals surrounding their use in the nation - they are requesting that all feedback be submitted by 15th March 2017.  As per the paper, the UK is taking a “strong safety approach to aviation regulation and drones” while addressing challenges and benefits.

The government is looking for evidence and responses to its proposals from aviation experts, under three different themes.  The first theme reviews policy and regulation and UAV innovation.  The second looks at UAV safety and operation within the law.  Finally, the third theme deals with laying the foundations for a developed UAV market.

Within these three themes are different areas that will undergo assessment.  The main areas being assessed include: UK UAV test site facilities, licensing and training for operators, insurance, increasing awareness of the law, improving deterrents, enforcing flying restriction zones, UAV registration, electronic identification and traffic management.

The document is asking for opinions on such things as increasing fines under certain circumstances, or changing laws to make them simpler.

The paper is part of a much larger UK strategy to encourage safe use of UAV while helping control public opinion as well.  

It seems like the number of close proximity drone incidents is not slowing down, with the UK Airprox Board (UKAB) reporting three more incidents of unmanned aerial vehicles coming alarmingly close to airliners.  To make matters worse, all three incidents were rated in the highest category for risk.

Two of the three encounters occurred in the month of July.  In one case, an Embraer E190 regional jet coming out of London City Airport was taking a right turn passing 2,700 feet when a UAV was spotted in the 11 o’clock position just above the airplane.  Aviation experts are shocked this didn’t end in some sort of collision.

The second incident involved a Boeing 767 on short finals to runway 23R at Manchester Airport, when a UAV passed down the right side of the plane at cockpit height.

The last reported UKAB Incident involved an Airbus A320 in a holding pattern over Biggin Hill Airport.  The First Officer saw a small object coming for the aircraft at a fairly rapid pace. 

The UAV operator was not found in any of these cases.

Last week airlines got very candid, explaining a U.N. warning mechanism designed to avoid incidents like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is “useless.”

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) represents 265 airlines and, in situations like this, acts as a singular voice for them.  The group is calling for officials to rethink this type of mechanism and to find new ways of detecting dangers posed to aircrafts when flying over war zones.  IATA officials said the new system should also incorporate information on other types of security threats, not just conflict zones. 

The mechanism under fire was launched last April by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).   It is a central location for states to provide information related to potential risks around the world for airlines. This repository, however, doesn’t contain enough information and is not communicated fast enough for airlines to use in real time.  Airlines are calling this system less than inadequate.  Nick Careen, IATA’s senior vice president for airport, explains the mechanism was rushed in execution.

“It was implemented too quickly without giving it appropriate level of thought as to what was required by the industry,” Careen said.   

Careen said airlines do have access to a lot of security information, but they have to go to multiple different locations in order to get everything they need. ICAO and IATA launched a survey to see where airlines are getting their information from to better assess the situation.      

If all goes as planned, new recommendations will be submitted by 2017.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is feverishly working to comply with new legislation that will make it possible for some private pilots to fly without a medical next year.  The new rules are not yet in place, thus the current rule still applies and pilots must have an up to date medical to fly.  This seems to be causing some confusion, though.

Some pilots with special issuances were advised that they should surrender their medicals, as opposed to waiting for them to lapse.  Sean Elliot, EAA’s vice president for advocacy and safety warns pilots that this is never a good idea. 

“An airman should never surrender their certificate,” Elliot said.   He even goes as far as to say that in some cases, it might a good idea to “just let it lapse”.

Elliot said the misguided advice to surrender the medical was an isolated incident.  While it was just a misunderstanding, aviation experts explain that this could have resulted in a pilot losing their flying privileges.  The decision to surrender should actually never be made without consulting an aviation attorney, or aviation expert, first.

As for the new rule, many aviation experts are hoping to see something from the FAA by early 2017.

The Airbus A350-1000 completed its first flight last week from Toulouse-Blagnac Airport at 10:42 am on Thursday. 

The flight lasted four hours and 18 minutes, commencing an intensive campaign of testing that will involve three prototypes, which are scheduled to fly 1,600 hours over approximately 10 months.  Certification is expected in the second half of next year.

The primary flight test duties for the first aeroplane, MSN059, include exploring the flight envelope, handling, loads and breaking.  The MSN071, the second aircraft to fly, will be responsible for performance evaluation, braking, systems and autopilot.  For the third prototype, Airbus plans on equipping the MSN065 with a passenger interior to analyse cabin and air systems. 

The A350-1000 is a direct competitor for Boeing’s 777-300ER and the 777-8X.  The first planned delivery for the A350-1000 will be to Qatar Airways which placed an order for 37 aircrafts.          

New amended rules governing the European Aviation Safety Administration (EASA) are being welcomed by pilots, but criticized by aviation experts and major airlines.

The amended rules were adjusted so that governing bodies could tackle emerging issues with a clear direction.  The European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee (TRAN) voted on amendments to the “Basic Regulation” setting the agency’s framework and competences.  This approved committee text is now the European Parliament’s position for negotiations with the EU Council of Ministers on the final version of the regulation.

The recommendations covered topics of UAV use, to cyberattacks on aviation infrastructure.  Aviation cyber-security has been making the news quite a bit these days, especially because the TSA recently withdrew a solicitation.

In a recent statement, Marian-Jean Marinescu reporting on TRAN proceedings, said unmanned aircrafts could prove to be the future of aviation innovation and efficiency, but that does not excuse them from rules and regulations.  Under the proposed rules, the registration and identification of UAV’s and their owners was kept basic.  It is requested that all UAVs with a takeoff weight that exceeds 250 grams be registered.

Other areas of EASA regulation slated to be updated include safety management style provisions.  TRAN is recommending a European Aviation Safety Program be created in addition to each EU member state establishing its own national aviation safety programs.  Finally, TRAN is recommending that on top of all of this, a plan be in place that spells out key safety risks for civil aviation safety systems with actions to mitigate them.

While pilots seemed okay with this, airline lobby groups like Airlines for Europe felt that TRAN is basically increasing bureaucracy and cost to passengers.