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According to an announcement from AirMap, which provides an airspace management platform for drone operators, by fall this year 50 US airports will be allowing unmanned aircraft (UAS) or drone operators, to apply for automated authorizations to fly in controlled airspace around their airports.

These airports will roll out a Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) before the end of 2017. Usually, airspace authorization requests for UAS are subject to long waiting periods (up to 90 days) and labor-intensive manual approvals.

To counteract this, the FAA have brought together 12 companies, which includes AirMap, to work out how they can assist the FAA with an automated authorization process for drones to fly in a safe and approved airport air space.

 According to AirMap, the LAANC will enable UAS pilots “to apply for instant, digital approval to fly in U.S. controlled airspace using the same applications they use for flight planning and in-flight situational awareness.”

AirMap co-founder Greg McNeal, writing for Forbes, stated it’s the “first step in the actual implementation of unmanned traffic management”.

It is hoped that all airports will be able to put this into practice by next year.

Willie Walsh, who is IAG’s chief executive and the owners of British Airways, has announced that the IT failure that grounded planes at both Heathrow and Gatwick airports, cost them in the region of £58 million ($65m).

The incident, which happened over a bank holiday weekend last May, left passengers unable to check in and was thought to have affected around 75,000 travellers and 726 flights.

Although an external company engaged to look into the power failure have nearly completed their investigation, Walsh declared he had "not learned anything new". The airline had previously announced that the disruption was caused by an engineer disconnecting and incorrectly restoring a power supply.

Despite the huge cost the incident caused, IAG reported a 13.8% increase in half-year operating profits (after exceptional items) to £804m ($898m). BA operating profits also rose, from $631m to $741m.

Although some passenger’s cases are still being dealt with, Willie Walsh defended the company's effort to compensate travellers for the disruption caused by the IT failure, stating to the BBC's Today programme "We are doing everything we can to make good the disruption that the customers experienced, but it was an isolated event and I think you've got to focus on the fact that BA's passenger numbers continue to increase."

At the Aviation Club lunch on 12th July 2017, the Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, Secretary of State for Transport, discussed Heathrow, aviation strategy, airspace modernisation, the EU and the long-term prospects for aviation.

Emphasising his continued support for the industry, Grayling firstly touched on the subject of a third runway at Heathrow airport.

Whilst there has been some speculation recently as to why the subject wasn’t mentioned in the Queen’s speech, Grayling reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to the scheme was “as strong as ever” but stated that the project needed to be “the right scheme at the right price”.

Moving on to discuss aviation policy, Grayling announced that as it had been 4 years since the government published its aviation policy framework, they will shortly publish a new aviation strategy. This will set the long-term direction for aviation policy to 2050.

Amongst other things, the policy will look at:

  • safety and security
  • growing global connections
  • encouraging competition
  • embracing new technology
  • building a skilled workforce
  • and supporting growth while reducing aviation’s negative effects, including on our airports’ neighbours and the wider environment

However, according to the Secretary of State for Transport, its overriding aim will be “to put the customer at the centre of aviation policy.”

To finish his address, Grayling rounded up by touching on what he described as “the political issue of the moment” - Brexit. Whilst acknowledging the aviation industry wants certainty, and quickly, he stated that as formal negotiations had only just begun, it would be some time yet before any decisions were made. Nevertheless, he did declare that:

“...one of our priorities is to secure the best possible access to European aviation markets.

We are also working hard to deliver another priority — the quick replacement of the EU-based third country agreements, with countries such as the US and Canada.”

The full content of his speech can be found here.

According to a preliminary report issued by Canadian air safety regulators, on July 7th Air Canada flight AC759 from Toronto came close to crashing into planes lined up to take off at San Francisco International Airport.

The plane, with 140 people on board, was cleared to land on runway 28R just after midnight. However, the pilot inadvertently lined up for Taxiway C, which runs parallel to the runway with fewer than 150 metres separating the runway from the taxiway.

In their short summary of the incident, Canada's Transportation Safety Board (TSB) estimated that the A320-200 overflew the first two aircraft by 100 ft., the third aircraft by 200 ft. and the fourth by 300 ft. The closest lateral distance to one of the aircraft was around 29 ft. The summary also said that the Air Canada Flight had already travelled almost a quarter of a mile over the taxiway before aborting the landing.

In a transcript of the conversations between air traffic control (ATC) and the Air Canada plane, the pilot informs ATC that he can see lights on the runway, before being told there are no other planes on 28R.  Other voices then say "Where's this guy going? He's on the taxiway." When ATC realizes the plane is lined up with the taxiway, it directs the pilots to perform a go around and approach again. On the second attempt it landed without incident.

The FAA and US NTSB are looking into what happened and an Air Canada spokesperson said the airline is also investigating the incident.

On 7th July, Bell Helicopter announced that it has resumed flight tests on the Bell 525 Relentless. This comes after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) agreed to renew their experimental certificate.

The test fleet was grounded on 6th July 2016, after the initial test flight crashed, causing fatal injuries to two test pilots. The crash, which is still being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) happened during visual flying conditions.  Mitch Snyder, president and CEO stated “Bell Helicopter has worked with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and FAA since the accident and we are confident in the resumption of flight test activity.”

Bell, a Textron Inc. Company, launched the five-bladed 525 in 2012 and is aiming for it to become the world’s first fly-by-wire commercial helicopter. Initially planned for certification in 2017, it is designed to decrease pilot workload and be able to operate safely in austere environments. The aircraft utilizes advanced technology including the first fully-integrated touch screen avionics for helicopters and is now slated to be certified in 2018.

Mitch Snyder stated “The team is focused on certification in 2018 and we are committed to bringing this innovative and high-performing helicopter to market.”

Following an incident with an Emirates Airbus A380 on November 9th last year, Europe’s safety authority (EASA) has proposed that checks should be carried out on the gravity extension system on all Airbus A380’s landing gear.

The Emirates flight was en route from London to Dubai with 345 passengers, when the crew received a hydraulic system overheat warning. In response, they isolated the green hydraulic system, meaning that the undercarriage had to be deployed using the backup procedure, free-fall gravity extension.

However, when the crew tried to deploy the landing gear, the left wing gear failed to extend properly and even though the gear doors had opened, it stayed up and locked. Although the crew declared an emergency, the aircraft touched down safely in Dubai using its remaining landing gear.

The incident prompted the United Arab Emirates Air Accident Investigation Sector (AAIS) to call for a mandatory A380 fleetwide inspection and Airbus subsequently issued an operator alert and developed a modification.

EASA are advising that aircraft which have not had this modification should have the gravity extension system on the wing landing gear tested, as well as repeatedly inspecting the wiring. Should the testing uncover any anomalies then their proposed airworthiness directive (AD) states the operator must carry out Airbus’s corrective measures before it goes back into service.  

As NASA gets closer to testing sonic-boom mitigation technology on a demonstration aircraft, so the ability of supersonic passenger jet travel becomes more of a reality.

NASA recently announced that in conjunction with Lockheed Martin, it has completed the preliminary design review (PDR) of its Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) aircraft design. QueSST is the initial design stage of their low boom flight demonstration (LBFD) experimental airplane, known as an X-plane.

However, in order to make supersonic travel over land (prohibited since March 1973) happen, a repeal of the existing ban would also be needed. Currently, the House and Senate versions of FAA reauthorization bills both include measures whereby the FAA would be directed to study, and if necessary update, the regulations surrounding supersonic travel.

Rep. Mark Sanford (R-South Carolina), sponsored a measure as an amendment to the House FAA reauthorization bill. The measure directs the FAA to obtain stakeholder input on an appropriate regulatory framework and timeline to permit civil supersonic aircraft operations; issues related to standards and noise certification; operational differences between subsonic and supersonic aircraft; benefits of supersonic operations; and challenges with balancing economically reasonable policies with protecting the public from noise exposure. It further directs the FAA to report back to Congress within a year on its activities.

“It’s vital that we change with the times,” Sanford said. “Over the last 45 years, since there’s been a moratorium on supersonic flight over the domestic U.S., the technology, in fact, has changed. It’s changed dramatically.”

Included in the Senate FAA reauthorization bill is a direction to the FAA to review laws and policies regarding supersonic aircraft operations over land. Within 180 days they must submit a report to Congress noting advancements in aircraft/engine design that would alleviate noise and other concerns that led to the restrictions and previously meant that Concorde, the supersonic airliner, had to slow to below Mach 1 before making landfall on its transatlantic flights.

Engineers from Lockheed and NASA are continuing to finalize the QueSST design but are apparently confident that eventually flight at supersonic speeds - but producing only a soft “thump” instead of the distinctive sonic boom - will be capable. 

Flight operations in the F-35A at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona which had been cancelled after 5 reported incidents of hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, have now been resumed.

Although experts from the Joint Program Office, the Air Force Research Laboratory and Lockheed Martin could indentify no definite reasons for the symptoms, classed as physiological episodes (PE’s), Maj. Rebecca Heyse, a spokeswoman for Luke Air Force Base, did state that "....specific concerns were eliminated as possible causes, including maintenance and aircrew flight equipment procedures."

Fortunately, in each of the 5 incidents a back up oxygen system kicked in, leaving the pilots unharmed. However, whilst flight operations have been allowed to resume, five criteria are temporarily applied. These include avoiding the altitudes in which all 5 PE events occurred; modifying ground procedures to mitigate physiological risks to pilots; expanding physiological training to increase understanding between pilot and medical communities and increasing minimum levels for backup oxygen systems for each flight.

Additionally, pilots have been offered the option of wearing sensors during flight to collect airborne human performance data.

These sensors, received by the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, are made by Cobham, a British company and test the composition of inhaled and exhaled air flowing into a pilot's mask. Although the symptoms of hypoxia can be observed, finding the cause of it has been described by Julian Hellebrand, (president of the Cobham's mission systems sector) as putting together a “mosaic of events”. The company therefore hope that the data gathered by the masks at those two places can be analyzed to pinpoint any problems.

In a press release Cobham stated “The delivery of this inhalation sensor block marks the first step towards creating this mosaic by capturing temperature and pressure data inside the cabin, and the flow rate and concentration of oxygen being supplied to the pilot with each inhalation breath.” 

In a report released on June 15th, the US Navy have attributed the deaths of four F-18 pilots in the last 10 years, to "physiological episodes" that occurred while the aircraft was airborne.

The report found that while the deaths were not the direct result of an oxygen system failure, they were linked by the fact that pilots experienced various symptoms that fall within the scope of what is described as a physiological episode (PE). While the report redacts the exact causes of the four deaths, it does explain that mitigation procedures to prevent similar incidents have now been implemented.

The investigation was initially launched in March after more than one hundred T-45 instructional pilots refused to fly in protest at continuing issues with the aircraft's oxygen system. Reports of physiological episodes among T-45 and F-18 pilots have been on the increase since 2012, with the report admitting “Despite the absence of statistically accurate PE reporting, the number and severity of Naval Aviation PEs is unacceptable”.

PE’s which have manifested themselves as air sickness, dizziness and even blackouts, have not as yet led to a fatality in T-45 pilots but does mirror issues observed among F-18 Hornet pilots. Although the report was not able to pinpoint the exact cause of the problem, stating "To date, finding a solution ... has proved elusive", investigators did offer some ways to mitigate the risk and help ensure the safety of the pilots. This includes training to recognize the symptoms and new procedures which stress the importance of selecting emergency oxygen as a first step.

The full report can be found here.

 

Major General Garrett Harencak, commander of Air Force Recruiting Service says that the US Air Force has had to change the way it recruits the newest generation of airmen, to be able to reach its goal of having about 322,500 active-duty airmen by the end of the year. According to the fiscal 2018 budget request, they also hope to add around 2,600 airmen next year, bringing the active force up to 325,100. 

Although Air Force retention rates in general have much improved - helped in part by the USAF reducing training and extra duties for airmen and so bettering their quality of life, as well as offering raised retention bonuses - the Air Force still has undermanned areas that it needs to fill. These areas are forecast to account for about 70% of the growth in 2017 and include maintenance, nuclear, cyber, intelligence and surveillance. 

However, this recruitment drive has also highlighted the fact that across the military, Air Force recruiters work the hardest. According to an Air Force Manpower Agency study conducted last year, the average Air Force recruiter works about 38 hours more per month to be able to bring in 2.5 new recruits per month. This is compared to 0.8 brought in by Army recruiters, 0.9 by Navy and 1 by Coast Guard recruiters. “We’re asking too much of them. They’re working too hard” Harencak stated, adding that the Air Force needs to “change the focus”.

Firstly, Harencak says Air Force recruiting needs to grow by another 200 to 300 recruiters in the next few years, including the 120 recruiters expected to be added this year. This would get the average per-recruiter monthly production down to a better average than it is now, but still remain higher than any other service. The Air Force also is starting to re-open recruiting offices in major cities that it closed in recent years because they weren’t seen as cost-efficient. 

In regard to recruitment policies, the Air Force is changing some of their rules that they now feel barred people who could have become good airmen. “We have a system where all we do is build barriers and obstacles for great young Americans to join our Air Force,” Harencak said.

For instance, rules barring recruits from having more than 25% of their chest, back, arms or legs tattooed have already been changed, as have those on the past use of marijuana. Policies on medical issues such as eczema, asthma and ADHD are also being reconsidered. 

Additionally, they are looking at dropping out-moded methods such as the reams of paperwork required to be filled in, by using technology to speed up the administration process.

Lastly, Harencak also said the Air Force’s marketing budget has been too low. This meant it was unable to promote itself to potential recruits but is now being upped and recruiting should be getting the additional funds necessary to get its message out.

Further reading: The USAF Look into Pilot Sharing with the Major Airlines

As a way of easing the shortage of pilots that is being faced by Chinese airlines, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) is planning, in the next few years, to raise the mandatory retirement age for pilots, which currently stands at 60 years old.

It is forecast that China will need about 2,800 to 3,000 pilots annually over the next three years, a number that the flying schools across the country cannot produce. Because of this, local airlines frequently send their cadets to the U.S.A., Europe or Australia, however the process requires that cadets must undertake a minimum 80-hour English course before they start training. Add this to the cost of undertaking  type rating and this becomes an expensive proposition.

Since 2007 when the Chinese Government simplified their laborious approval process, Chinese carriers have tried to overcome the shortage by enticing foreign pilots with good salary packages and large bonuses. However, hiring foreign pilots has become more difficult over the past few years as airlines around the world face a similar shortage situation.

For example, just recently experts from the US aviation industry predicted that major US airlines will need to hire around 18,000 pilots in the next three years to infill for retirements. Indeed the 2016 Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook forecasts that “between now and 2035, the aviation industry will need to supply more than two million new aviation personnel—617,000 commercial airline pilots....”. It goes on to state that “Over the next 20 years, the Asia Pacific region will lead the worldwide growth in demand for pilots, with a requirement for 248,000 new pilots.”

If the CAAC do raise the mandatory retirement age, they will be following in line with other countries that have adopted this approach –the retirement age in the UK is 65, the Ministry of Transport of Japan raised its mandatory retirement age from 64 to 67 in February 2015 and the USA raised its age from 60 to 65 in 2007.

While operators in China and around the world have so far been able to hire sufficient pilot numbers, experts hope that these proactive measures will help ease the upcoming problem.