Thursday, March 13, 2014

FAA considers rules to require alcohol and drug testing of foreign aircraft-repair workers

DALLAS — Aviation regulators say they're considering rules that would require alcohol and drug testing for people who work on U.S. airline planes in foreign maintenance and repair shops.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday that it is seeking public comments. The agency wants to know which countries allow random drug testing and which ban it, and which drugs are most abused in other countries.

Transportation workers in the U.S. are subject to drug and alcohol testing, and Congress voted in 2012 to extend the rules to foreign aircraft repair shops.

However, the FAA could run into a patchwork of international laws about drug testing, which can range from bans to greater privacy protections. In 2000, the FAA abandoned an effort to require drug testing for employees of foreign airlines that operate in the U.S.

The FAA said extending drug-testing laws overseas "presents complex practical and legal issues and could impose potentially significant costs on industry."

In recent years, U.S. airlines have shifted more maintenance work overseas. Labor unions have complained, saying that the foreign shops aren't regulated as closely as ones in the U.S.

There are about 120 foreign repair stations that work on planes flown by U.S.-based airlines, the FAA said in a Federal Register posting.

Some of those foreign facilities are represented by the Aeronautical Repair Station Association, which defends the quality of foreign shops and favors an international approach to preventing drug and alcohol use among their workers.

The trade group "is not for people using drugs and alcohol when they work on aircraft," executive director Sarah MacLeod said in an interview, "but it's also not for expending resources that can be focused in other areas such as training and other more important aspects to civil aviation safety."

At a recent congressional hearing, an AFL-CIO official said that the U.S. should curb outsourcing of aircraft-repair work and provide safeguards when outsourcing is allowed.

"If you're going to repair aircraft overseas under FAA regulations, then the same rules will apply to those workers that apply here in the United States," said the union official, Edward Wytkind.


Birds Eye View Brought to Masses


Evan Anderman understood the land around him differently than most growing up. He was after all, the son of a geologist. Years later, his perspective has grown increasingly distinct and separate from the ground.

That's because he's an aerial photographer.

“I love how the cattle are just little dots like that,” said Anderman in his Cessna Turbo 206 high above the Northern Colorado landscape.

Surrounded by the majestic, and often photographed, Rocky Mountains Anderman chooses instead to focus on those ‘little dots’ and the myriad other shapes that only distance affords.

“I decided I could go up to the mountains like everybody else and take pictures up there but I kind of like solitude anyway and I like getting away from people and this is more subtle,” he said.

Anderman, like his father, became a geologist. In 2005, after nearly two decades in the field, he took that deep connection to the land and shifted course, pursuing his passion for photography. Anderman has worked full-time as an artist since.

“Yep sometimes I'll just cruise along with my elbow out the window just checking things out,” said Anderman.

His inner Sunday driver embraced, Anderman has the luxury of traveling at more than 100 miles an hour with little regard for what’s in front of him - er, below him.

“It’s hard to find any place out here that hasn't been influenced in some way by man,” Anderman said.

From Springfield, Colorado to the Pawnee Buttes, Anderman’s most recent three-part photography series focused on farmland, energy and feedlots. The aerial images collected while soaring above more than a dozen cities or towns.

“What I've been focusing on out here is that land use and what we're doing and how that might affect the land on a more permanent basis,” he said.

A cacophony of shapes and array of colors – linear, circular, serpentine, browns, blacks, and even green are the result of humankind’s overlap of the natural landscape.

Once he has identified a subject, Anderman puts the plane on autopilot seizes the camera hanging from his neck, opens the window, leans out and clicks.

That birds-eye view is something others might not experience. He said there is a definitive difference between terrestrial and aerial vantage points.

“It feels more significant when you are on the ground because [an object] is sticking up in front of the horizon where as from the air it feels like a little spot and more of the land patterns become important around it,” muses Anderman.

The result of all those shapes and spots, he said, is “a subtle beauty.”

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Federal Aviation Administration says it will increase NextGen funding in Fiscal 2015

The Federal Aviation Administration says it is increasing funding in its fiscal 2015 budget proposal for the NextGen air traffic control system, not cutting funding, as some advocates of the system have warned.

The FAA will spend just over $1 billion on NextGen in the coming fiscal year, up from $901 million in 2014, the agency said today.

NextGen will replace the current radar-based system put in place after World War II with a satellite-based tracking system akin to those on mobile phones and automobile dashboards, which will trace plane movements more precisely. While NextGen is estimated to cost at least $40 billion and take more than a decade to implement, proponents say it will improve safety, reduce delays, increase airport capacity, and cut emissions and save money by reducing fuel consumption.

A Congressional panel chaired by Rep. Frank LoBiondo (D-2nd District) held a hearing Tuesday at the FAA's Hughes Technical Center, a national testing site at Atlantic City International Airport, which touched on NextGen's implementation.

Some advocates of the system, including those who believe it will help Newark Liberty, John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports meet the region's increasing demand for air travel, used the occasion to protest what they saw as a proposed 7-percent cut in NextGen funding, from $901 million in the current fiscal year to $836 million for 2015.

But the FAA said today that was an incomplete picture of NextGen's total proposed funding, which the agency said failed to take into account additional spending on the system proposed under other FAA programs.

"The budget proposal funds Next Gen at $836 million, with an additional $186 million from the Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative," the FAA stated. "This budget continues to support NextGen programs that deliver benefits to users in the near term and aligns with recent recommendations made by aviation stakeholders on the NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC). The agency's new NextGen leadership has been working closely with the NAC to identify and prioritize initiatives that will accelerate delivery of benefits to users."


Cape May County (KWWD) and Millville Municipal (KMIV): Airports want to be part of drone testing

Both the Cape May Airport and Millville Airport are interested in being part of a project to test unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, over the skies of southern New Jersey.

Cape May County Freeholder Will Morey announced the county’s interest after the freeholder meeting Tuesday night. Earlier in the day, Morey attended a congressional hearing in Egg Harbor Township, where the project was discussed.

The Federal Aviation Administration has approved a joint application by New Jersey and Virginia to be one of six national test sites chosen to integrate drones into national airspace plans. An FAA official at the hearing mentioned possible uses, including firefighting, disaster relief, search and rescue, law enforcement, border security, military training, and testing and evaluation.

“We will pursue unmanned aircraft systems for the Cape May Airport,” Morey said while giving a report on several new developments at the airport.

Although owned by the county, the airport is leased to the Delaware River & Bay Authority, and that agency also is interested in the initiative. DRBA Executive Director Scott Green said Wednesday he has been discussing the idea with Morey and U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, who chairs the House Aviation Subcommittee that held Tuesday’s hearing.

Green said it’s still “very early in the game.” The DRBA, known locally for running the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, also operates the Millville Airport as well as airports in Delaware.

Green said the airfield in Millville and the Cape May Airport, which is actually in Lower Township, could be used for testing of drones, office space, to maintain or store equipment or other aspects of the operation.

“We are always on the lookout for economic development at all our airports, especially economic development that is aviation related. It’s exactly the kind of opportunity we’re looking for,” Green said.

Green said any such project would have to meet two litmus tests: It can’t interfere with general aviation and it must be compatible with communities surrounding the airports.

Jason Galanes, a spokesman for LoBiondo, said the congressman is exploring the possibilities with Morey and the DRBA. Galanes said the first test site will be chosen in June. He noted the partnership is with Virginia, and it is a joint project with Rutgers University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute. A lot of people are involved in such decisions.

“We don’t know who’s going first. We keep looking at areas in New Jersey that would want to be part of this. We’re encouraged Cape May County wants to be part of this,” Galanes said.

There could be multiple sites. Galanes said the William J. Hughes FAA Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township is one site, with the Warren Grove area expected to be used since it already hosts military training and has restricted airspace.

Other national sites were chosen by the FAA to present different testing environments. Galanes said Alaska was chosen for its extreme terrain issues. Alaska is lumped with Hawaii and Oregon. The other sites are Nevada, North Dakota, Texas and New York.

Galanes said Cape May’s proximity to water — the ocean and Delaware Bay — could be a strong point. The Cape May Airport was a naval air station in World War II that trained torpedo bombers who practiced on dummy targets on the water. Green agreed the configuration of the Cape could help. The airport covers almost 1,000 acres and has water on three sides.

“They know our facilities are here and we’re ready to handle their business. Anybody interested in the future of airports knows new aviation businesses don’t come along very often,” Green said.

LoBiondo said the testing could provide “significant economic opportunities” for the aviation field, particularly in southern New Jersey.

“A years-long effort has been spent on putting forth the strongest application — including forming a solid working partnership with Virginia — to ensure the FAA recognized our existing assets for this project. I appreciate Governor (Chris) Christie’s unwavering support throughout the process as well as the efforts of my congressional colleagues and those working on the ground in South Jersey on our proposal,” LoBiondo said.

The first test site is expected to be operational within 180 days. The sites are scheduled to operate until February 2017.

The Hughes center will be a central clearinghouse to collect data from each of the six test sites and work to integrate drones into national airspace plans. This was mandated by the 2012 FAA Authorization Act that LoBiondo pushed for.

LoBiondo said there will be measures to protect the privacy of surrounding residents and commercial businesses. He also noted Congress continues to evaluate “further legislative options” to address civil liberty questions. Some are concerned about the potential misuses of drones. The FAA still needs to develop regulations to control commercial uses of drones.


Explorers head to S. Pacific to confirm Earhart's plane wreck

Experts say the rivets and their pattern on this plane fuselage discovered on the island match the repair records of Earhart's Lockheed Electra.

WASHINGTON - Amelia Earhart's plane disappeared in 1937 and it remains one of the world's enduring mysteries. Now, explorers are excited about new evidence that could confirm that artifacts found on a remote South Pacific island are from the wreckage of her plane.

The National Group for Historic Aircraft Recovering is making its 11th trip this coming fall to the island of Nikumaroro where increasingly, evidence of a plane crash there points to the Earhart wreck.

The TIGHAR team of archaeologists and plane crash recovery experts are going back yet again to connect the dots they know of, and experiment with new technology which could help them uncover more.

"My personal goal is to find out for sure what happened to Amelia Earhart. If there's a whole chapter of her life surviving as a castaway on a waterless Pacific atoll. We should know that," says TIGHAR executive director Ric Gillespie.

The collected details thus far are these: Human remains were found on the island three years after Earhart's plane disappeared that are believed to be a woman's. There is a piece of plane fuselage that the team's director believes washed up on shore many years ago which has rivet marks that match repair records of Earhart's Lockheed Electra. Finally, campsite artifacts recovered on the island date to the 1930's and were manufactured in America.

Some of those items were a women's compact and freckle-cream jar manufactured in the U.S. around that decade.

"The fact that we have artifacts from the '30s from America on this island doesn't mean they were Earhart's, but if they're not Earhart's we've got to ask, 'Whose were they?'," says archaeologist Thomas King.

He is concerned with preserving whatever the team finds on the island or around its reef slope. He pointed specifically to any remnants of the plane, which was aluminum, submerged for this long would be particularly difficult to bring back for lab testing.

"I've seen aluminum come out of salt water after 40, 50 years and practically explode. It just has a very dramatic oxidation. So you really want to be very careful and anything we find is going to have to be either left down there or brought into a controlled environment very quickly," King says.

The island of Nikumaroro is uninhabited, very hot and full of wildlife, Gillespie says. The group is looking for sponsorship and funding, even reserving four spots for individuals who want to pay to experience the exploration first-hand.

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