Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Facebook plans to put 747-sized drones in the sky


Facebook and revealed plans back in March to bring Internet connectivity to every part of the world. One of those plans involved beaming wireless signals down from an aircraft.

This week, we learned that aircraft is going to be big, and when it goes up, they're hoping it doesn't come down — for a while, at least.

Yael Maguire, engineering director at the Facebook Connectivity Lab, told Mashable the company's Internet drones would likely be solar-powered and the size of a "commercial aircraft, like a 747."

Maguire says at least one model is about as long as six or seven Toyota Priuses. The reason for the size has to do with operating effectively at high altitudes.

"We're looking at a new type of plane architecture that flies at roughly 20,000 meters because that's the point the wind is the lowest, it's above commercial airlines, it's even above the weather. ... They have the ability to broadcast Internet down, but significantly closer than a satellite."

Solar power could also help these planes stay in the air for months at a time and provide a solid Internet signal to suburban or medium-density areas around the world.

Of course, getting permission to put the planes in the sky might be just as difficult as developing the technology to keep them there.

Wired writes the altitude "puts these drones on tricky regulatory footing, since there are essentially no regulations on aircraft that fly above 60,000 feet in the air." As for them being unmanned, "Facebook and its counterparts will also have to find a way around regulations dictating that there must be one human operator to every drone."

The Federal Aviation Administration hasn't issued rules for unmanned aircraft in the U.S., but it's expected to by the end of this year — before the drone's 2015 launch date. Maguire added those drones could be beaming down wireless signals in the next 3-5 years.



Transportation Security Administration closes parts of Indianapolis International Airport (KIND) for training film

The Indianapolis International Airport is being used as a movie set this week to produce a training film for the Transportation Security Administration.

Portions of the airport concourse and gates have been closed since Monday as the TSA makes a film about how to respond to an "active shooter" at airports. The filming will last until Saturday.

The training film is a direct result of the a shooting at Los Angeles International Airport on Nov. 1, 2013, said Mark Howell, a TSA regional spokesman.

TSA officer Gerardo Hernandez was killed and two employees were injured, as well as five civilians, when suspect Paul Anthony Ciancia opened fire.

"We are taking this filming very seriously," Howell said. "This is personal for us."

Howell said film will teach TSA employees, who do not carry weapons, what to do if someone opens fire in an airport.

A combination of paid actors and TSA employees are in the film portraying a gunman and passengers. "We want to make it look as realistic as possible," Howell said.

The sounds of gunfire will be added in the production stage so real passengers won't be alarmed. Airport and TSA workers are at the airport to let passengers know that a film is being made. There are also signs posted throughout the airport.

Howell said Indianapolis was chosen for the film because it is a wide-open space and has an abundance of natural light.

"It is one of the more modern airports, and we have always had a good relationship with officials there," Howell said.

The airport was a pilot site for full body scanners, and Howell said "we test a lot of things there because it's s a good sample size."

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RICO Suit Against Spirit Airlines Revived by 11th

 Courthouse News Service

(CN) - Spirit Airlines may be liable under the RICO act for hiding a "passenger usage fee" among government-imposed fees and taxes, the 11th Circuit ruled.

Spirit Airlines calls itself "the ultra-low cost airline of the Americas," that gives customers "frill control" by letting them choose what options they would like to add to the base travel fare.

But a Florida-based class action says that Spirit's cheap fares are misleading.

When selecting a flight on Spirit's website, travelers see just the base fare prices. Only after selecting a flight does the website show the additional costs of the ticket, an undifferentiated amount called "Taxes & Fees."

Yet another click is required to find out that this figure includes Spirit's usage fee, which is included by other airlines in the price of a ticket, as well as government taxes and fees.

 "Spirit is employing an 'ancillary revenue model' which forces consumers to pay unbundled charges that have traditionally been included in the total price of an airline ticket," the lawsuit claims . "Spirit's 'fares,' in effect, are little more than a down payment on air travel."

A federal judge found for Spirit, ruling that the Federal Aviation Act (FAA) pre-empts the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) for claims involving deceptive airfare, fees and fare advertising.

But the 11th Circuit reinstated the class's RICO claims Tuesday.

Spirit insisted that the FAA covers the plaintiffs' claims, pre-empting RICO laws in the field of airline liability. The FAA gives the Department of Transportation the legal authority to decide deceptive practice claims involving airlines.

"The District Court was concerned that the federal statutes [, the FAA and RICO,] overlap," Judge Stanley Marcus wrote for the three-judge panel. "But that is how Congress wrote them. Sometimes a defendant's actions may qualify both as unfair and deceptive advertising under the FAA and as mail or wire fraud under federal criminal statutes. So long as plaintiffs do not argue that violation of the first establishes the second, our precedent does not restrict their RICO action."

Though the plaintiffs could have submitted their complaint to the Department of Transportation, the fact that they did not does not bar their claims, the court said.

"Civil RICO claims predicated on mail and wire fraud are not precluded by the ADA [Airline Deregulation Act] simply because they involve fraud arising out of pricing, fees, and advertising in the airline industry," Marcus concluded.

The Atlanta-based appeals court noted it gave no opinion as to whether plaintiffs have adequately pleaded a RICO claim. 

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Airbus raises jet demand forecast, sees China growth

(Reuters) - Airbus raised its 20-year forecast for jet demand on Wednesday, citing growth in emerging markets, with China on the brink of becoming the world's aviation powerhouse.

The European planemaker said it saw strong demand for wide-body long-distance jets as airport constraints force airlines to upgrade from smaller planes on some routes, and said it might speed up production plans for A330neo and A350 jets.

Airbus sees total demand for 31,400 passenger and freighter aircraft between 2014 and 2033, an increase of 7 percent from its previous rolling 20-year forecast. That would be equivalent to $4.6 trillion of industry revenue at list prices.

During that time, the world's in-service fleet will double, and China is poised to displace North America as the world's largest domestic market within a decade, Airbus sales chief John Leahy said in an interview.

Airbus and U.S. rival Boeing  are the only manufacturers of wide-body, long-distance jets. They also dominate the market for single-aisle medium-haul aircraft with the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 models.

Both manufacturers have opted to upgrade their popular small models with new engines to allow airlines to save fuel. Airbus is expected to stage the maiden flight of the revamped A320neo model at its Toulouse headquarters on Thursday.

Within the single-aisle category Airbus, also expects airlines to shift gradually towards the largest member of the family, the A321neo, which seats up to 240 people.

"Demand is shifting towards the A320 and A321, but it is also shifting out of single-aisle into wide-body," Leahy said. "If you are getting close to filling up any plane like the A321 you are spilling traffic."

Airbus nonetheless raised its demand forecast for single-aisle aircraft and predicted 22,000 deliveries of such jets in the next 20 years, up nine percent from its previous forecast.

Airbus, which has said it is studying plans to increase production of its A320 family to 50 aircraft a month from the current target of 46 a month in March 2016, expects to decide next year whether to aim for 50 a month "or more," Leahy said.

He told the Istat Europe air finance forum in Istanbul this week that the company would only raise production cautiously.

In the big-jet category, Airbus is looking at accelerating plans to produce a revamped version of its 250-300 seat A330, Leahy said. That would not necessarily mean greater overall A330 production - most analysts expect the reverse - but it would mean introducing the revised A330neo version more quickly.

It has so far outlined a tentative production goal of 86 revamped A330neo aircraft in 2019.

It is negotiating a potentially large block of a different type of A330, one fine-tuned for short domestic trips, to China, as part of talks to open a cabin-completion plant there.

Leahy said Airbus would try to keep output of the outgoing A330 model, currently 10 a month, as stable as possible. Most analysts expect it to slip to six or eight a month, however.

Airbus raised its 20-year demand forecast for all wide-body jets to 9,300 units, up more than 3 percent from the previous estimate.

But within that total, Airbus downgraded its forecast for the largest category of aircraft, including its A380 and Boeing's 747-8, to 1,500 aircraft from a previous goal of 1,700.

The reduction includes 100 aircraft each for the passenger and freight categories.

Airbus is considering whether to apply its recent preferences for upgrades to the A380 by updating the engines on the world's largest airliner.

No decision is imminent, Leahy said. Airbus is "comfortable" producing 30 of the A380 superjumbo jets a year, he added.

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Nigeria retains Federal Aviation Administration Category 1 Status

Nigeria aviation gets a fresh beat yesterday as the country retained the prestigious United States of America, USA, Federal Aviation Administration Category One Status.

A certificate to the federal government that certified that Nigeria aviation meets international standard was issued to the Minister of Aviation, Chief Osita Chidoka in the US.

Chidoka recently promised to reform and strengthens the Accident Investigation Bureau, AIB in line with the National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB, for greater efficiency and service delivery.

At a meeting with officials of the International Civil Aviation Organization, ICAO in Montreal, Canada, he urged the global body to commence exchange programs in air navigation, to deepen knowledge and promote best practice.

Chidoka was issued the certification after the Nigerian aviation industry propelled by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, and other major agencies in the sector closed all the identified open items when the FAA term visited the country in April.

The US FAA had carried out intensive internal aviation safety assessment of the sector earlier in the year amid concerns that the industry has gone through teething period since earning the CAT 1 status in September 2010.

A statement signed by the minister stated that the America FAA informed him that Nigeria had continued to meet the safety oversight requirements under the international aviation standards.

Chidoka noted that the retention of Category One Status was hard earned and promised that the government would continue to ensure that the country retains the status and other future safety certification in a seamless way.

He added that the NTSB team also provided some insights on the operations and activities of the board and advised the visiting team on some best practices to institutionalize to achieve the desired outcomes.

He further enjoined the US Department of Transportation, DoT, to extend its assistance to the Nigerian aviation industry in a bid to improve safety and security components.

The statement said “On the final leg of the official trip, Chidoka met with the US Transport Security Administration, TSA, to explore opportunities for capacity building and strengthening of aviation security systems and infrastructure.

“The minister requested for hands-on training and exchange programs between the two agencies that will result in direct and more meaningful transfer of expert knowledge in different aspects of airport security. The TSA promised to support the efforts of the present administration to enhance airport security and improve the operational performance and intelligence of security agents working in the air transport sector.

His team also inspected the Transportation Security Operations Center (TSOC) in the state of Virginia.

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Marshfield Municipal Airport (KGHG) officials answer some of residents' concerns

Residents left a recent Marshfield Airport Commission meeting with more questions than answers even after the airport’s manager attempted to address their concerns.

More than 30 people packed the small terminal building at Marshfield Municipal Airport last Tuesday, Sept. 16, many of them standing after seats ran out, looking for answers to questions they had posed at last month’s meeting about the airport’s $15.3 million runway expansion and improvement project.

Airport Manager Dave Dinneen answered more than half a dozen questions at the meeting, reading from prepared remarks. Those questions included what the overriding public benefit of the project was, why trees were cleared around the airport and if planes were flying in lower.

"The answer is no," Dinneen said of aircraft approaching lower over the Fieldston neighborhood.

He added that the landing threshold for planes approaching over Fieldston was "actually shifted further away, placing aircraft slightly higher over the neighborhood."

Neighbors of the airport in recent months have expressed concerns about jet fuel fumes and noise from airplanes, as well as a fear that the airport’s runway expansion will bring in more jets.

The airport was shifted 190 feet to the southwest and was expanded from 3,000 feet to 3,300 feet for landing. An additional 300 feet of paved area was added to both sides of the runway for safety purposes, allowing 3,600 feet for takeoff and 3,900 for emergency situations.

The runway was also widened by 25 feet and the taxiway widened by 5 feet.

Airport Commission Chairman Bob Reilly attempted to allay some of the residents' fears about jets.

"This commission is never going to proceed with commercial operations at this airport," Reilly said.

Resident John Savini said while residents didn’t expect to see commercial jetliners, such as Jet Blue landing in Marshfield, he did notice that Shoreline Aviation Inc., which operates out of the airport, was advertising a cheap price for jet fuel.

"It makes it a good business model for Shoreline to say it’s a good place to base your private jet," Savini said.

Residents had also asked if the Federal Aviation Administration could conduct a noise or air quality study at the airport.

"The FAA does not typically conduct these assessments for airports of small operations," Dinneen said.

He added with about 40 aircraft based in Marshfield, the FAA "considers Marshfield to be a relatively quiet airport compared to most other airports in the state."

Dinneen noted other airports in Massachusetts, including Plymouth and Norwood, have more than 100 planes based at their airports, but are still below the threshold for those types of studies.

Dinneen wrote down residents’ additional questions throughout the nearly hour-and-a-half long session in order to answer them at future meetings.

Some residents voiced displeasure at having to wait another month to have their concerns addressed.

Residents continued to voice concerns about the noise as well as the early and late hours at which planes were allowed to operate from the airport. Others asked about how many complaints the airport has received and how they're handled, and some called for the commission to revisit the amount of rent being charged for Shoreline Aviation to use the facility.

They also pushed for more clarity about the heights at which planes were approaching the runway from.

Reilly said the airport commission was working on developing a question and answer session in the future to better answer residents’ concerns.

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Beavercreek and Centerville, Ohio residents build ‘em, fly ‘em: Dawn Patrol Rendezvous is this weekend

Glen Fike of Beavercreek (left) and Rick Hoover of Centerville pose with their replica of a French Nieuport 11 biplane.

In both his military and civilian careers, Glen Fike of Beavercreek has spent much time working with aircraft. “I retired as a colonel at Wright-Patterson AFB, having worked on the F-16 and F-22 programs,” he said. After retiring, Fike stayed in the Dayton area. “I work for BAE Systems now. We do F-16 cockpit upgrades. I work with airplanes all day long.” Outside of work, Fike’s interest in aviation centers on building and flying replica WWI aircraft.

Fike said these WWI airplanes are more accessible to the average pilot than many other types. “We build our aircraft in the garage at home,” he said. These aircraft are built by using simple, inexpensive construction techniques and are powered by car engines.

Fike and his friend Rick Hoover of Centerville have built two airplanes so far, which they fly from the Andy Barnhart Memorial Airport in New Carlisle. “Our latest aircraft is a replica of a Fokker E.V that was delivered in July 1918 to Germany,” said Fike.

Hoover commented, “Glen builds the planes because that’s what you have to do to fly them. I like to work on planes, and I guess if you build them, you should fly them, too.”

Fike said his and Hoover’s hobby is shared by a group of Dayton area pilots. “We have a local club here in Dayton called the Wright Patrol, named after Wright Field. We like to get together and fly for fun.” Some of their aircraft are equipped with smoke systems and simulated weapons that these pilots use to simulate aerial combat. He said flight with these systems, “adds another dimension to flight that most pilots don’t get to experience.”

This Saturday and Sunday these pilots and builders will display their aircraft at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force during their bi-annual Dawn Patrol Rendezvous.

“We do the Dawn Patrol for the educational value,” said Fike, who will fly in the Dawn Patrol for his fourth time this year. This year’s show will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WWI. Replica WWI aircraft will fly throughout the day, and at times, engage in mock battles with infantry.

The Dawn Patrol is more than an aviation event. Vintage cars, re-enactors, weapon collectors and enthusiasts of other aspects of WWI will be well represented.

Fike said the Museum’s goal for the Dawn Patrol is to, “create an event that will immerse the average person in the entire WWI genre.”

How to go

What: World War I Dawn Patrol Rendezvous

Where: The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Entry is through the Airway Road gate.

When: 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27, and Sunday, Sept. 28

Cost: Admission and parking are free.

More info:

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Hawker Sea Fury T.20 (G-RNHF) leaves Culdrose for repair

Sea Fury outside 814 Sqn Hangar at RNAS Culdrose. 
Picture: MoD

The historic Royal Navy Sea Fury that suffered engine failure and crash landed during a display manoeuvre at RNAS Culdrose Air Day has left the base for repair. 

The plane was transported today from  to Weald Aviation Services, North Weald Airfield in Epping, Essex, for full assessment and repair.

The undercarriage of the iconic Hawker fighter collapsed on landing and the aircraft skidded off the runway and onto the grass, sustaining only minimal damage due to the quick thinking and skilled airmanship of the Royal Navy pilot, Lieutenant Commander Chris Götke.

With the main focus of the investigation centered on the aircraft’s Bristol Centaurus eighteen-cylinder radial engine, the engine and propeller were removed from the aircraft shortly after the incident and taken by road to North Weald - and now the airframe is to follow.

The move will be carried out by the Joint Aircraft Recovery and Transportation Squadron (JARTS), a specialist unit dedicated to aircraft post-crash management, recovery and transportation.

In preparation for the recovery, the unit has been working together with air engineering teams from RNAS Culdrose and Weald Aviation to partially strip down the large fighter in order to reduce the width of the load for the journey through the narrow Cornish lanes.

The fuselage, center wing section and the two outer wings will travel as three separate loads on specially adapted transporters to ensure that the rare heritage aircraft is well protected and incurs no further damage during the move.

Designed in the 1940s, the Sea Fury was one of the most successful and popular aircraft ever operated by the post war Fleet Air Arm, proving particularly capable in intensive carrier operations during the Korean War in the early 1950s.

The aircraft, which is one of the last airworthy survivors of the 50s era is owned by the Fly Navy Heritage Trust, the Royal Navy charity that preserves and promotes the Nation’s Naval Aviation Heritage.

Over the past three years Sea Fury T20 G-RNHF has attracted great excitement at air shows and events up and down the country thrilling audiences with the power, grace and high performance of this ultimate piston-engine fighter. 

Speaking of the support the Fly Navy Heritage Trust has received from the Royal Navy and the military generally, Captain Mike Nixon OBE, chief executive of the trust, said “The co-operation and support we have received from RNAS Culdrose, Weald Aviation, JARTS, 814 Naval Air Squadron and the scientists, naval engineers and civilian specialists in 1710 Naval Air Squadron has been absolutely outstanding.”

“The aircraft recovery team at RNAS Culdrose, particularly Lieutenant Commander Dale Collins Royal Navy, Senior Aircraft Engineer (Fixed Wing) Aviation Force HQ has been exceptional” continued Mike Nixon.

“We are also greatly indebted to the team from JARTS for their specialist expertise and professionalism.

"It has been an incredible example of the Royal Navy, civilian engineers, the wider military and the charitable trust all working together.

"I cannot praise highly enough, the dedication, care and devotion shown by everyone involved in the recovery of this rare and precious heritage aircraft.”

Fran Renouf, Weald Aviation’s Deputy Chief Engineer said “It has been a rare and privileged opportunity for everyone to work on such a magnificent heritage aircraft.

“Because it is something different, it has been interesting and everyone has really enjoyed doing it.

“People have loaned equipment and others have made bespoke trestles and bolts to support the airframe – nothing has been too much trouble.”

“The blacksmith at RNAS Culdrose, Ian Mack, made special brackets to secure the fuselage to one of the low loaders” continued Fran.

“As this sort of equipment is no longer made anymore they found a drawing in an old aviation publication and made something to fit.

“It was old engineering skills at its best! Many visitors also came to see the aircraft and the whole RNAS Culdrose community could not have been more supportive of one of the Royal Navy’s historically significant heritage aircraft.

“The team spirit and ‘can do’ approach has been marvelous!”

“The Sea Fury incident has provided some unusual opportunities for those involved in her recovery to test and demonstrate their professional skills” said Rear Admiral Ian Tibbitt CBE, Deputy Chairman of the Fly Navy Heritage Trust.

“All the renowned Fleet Air Arm engineering skills of problem solving, adaptability and innovation have been to the fore and the results reflect an outstanding achievement.

“The Trust is extremely grateful and all involved can be justifiably proud.”   

The route for the ‘Convoie Exceptional’ has been carefully researched and the journey to North Weald, which will include an overnight stop, is expected to take about eight hours.

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The plane which made an emergency landing at Culdrose Air Day is being taken for repairs. Smoke started billowing from the Hawker Sea Fury T.20 in front of thousands of spectators back in July.

The pilot managed to get it down - before one of the wheels collapsed sending it spinning onto the grass.  Mike Nixon is from the Fly Navy Heritage Trust - trying to get the 1940s aircraft back in the air. He said: "Thanks to the skill of the pilot we think the damage is much less than it otherwise would have been to the underside.

"There's some burn marks from the runway and so forth but as long as the undercarriage hasn't been damaged and put under too much stress then it's eminently flyable."  The problems with the flight brought Air Day to an early close in July, with emergency crews quickly on the scene.

However, the pilot was able to walk away from the plane unaided.  An investigation is now underway into what caused the problems onboard, including experts from the navy and insurers.  Mike Nixon said it was too early to tell what had gone wrong: "Really it would be just speculation. There is a full scale investigation going on.

"Everyone is taking an interest in this because it is an unusual airplane. It is an original and the engine is one of not that many around. We want to find out what went wrong."   The plane is now being transported by road for engineers to study the plane and start work on repairs.

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