Saturday, November 22, 2014

Boeing’s Crisis Spreads Beyond MAX: Troubled Starliner space launch and new tensions with airlines and suppliers hit aerospace giant

Boeing Company botched the first demonstration flight of a long-awaited space capsule and said it would suspend taking major 737 MAX parts from its biggest supplier, setbacks that pushed the aerospace giant deeper into crisis Friday.

The prolonged grounding of the MAX fleet and Boeing’s decision days earlier to suspend production of the jetliners were already weighing heavily on the company and Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg.

The high-profile failure of the Starliner on Friday to reach the correct orbit under its own power—scuttling the capsule’s planned docking with the international space station—was a fresh blow to Boeing as well as to U.S. efforts to return astronauts to space using a domestic vehicle. No one was aboard the spacecraft.

Following a flawless predawn launch of the Starliner from Florida by a Russian-powered Atlas V rocket, officials from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Boeing told reporters at a hastily convened press conference that a software or automation problem with the capsule stranded it in the wrong orbit without adequate fuel to rendezvous with the space station.

The mistake, stemming from a basic error in setting an internal clock on the spacecraft, raised new questions about Boeing’s technical and management prowess. The problems with the 737 MAX have been linked to flawed design work.

Mr. Muilenburg has faced calls from some lawmakers and victims’ families to step down over his handling of work to fix flight-control flaws and get the MAX flying again after two fatal crashes that took 346 lives.

A company spokesman said Friday that Boeing’s chairman, Dave Calhoun, stands behind his comments in early November on CNBC that the board of directors has confidence in Mr. Muilenburg.

But the Starliner’s problems suggest the woes of Boeing’s commercial-jet business could undermine broader strategic goals. The Chicago company’s defense, space and services units are crucial to bolstering a balance sheet weakened by the MAX grounding and suspension of deliveries, which prompted S&P Global Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service to downgrade Boeing’s credit rating this week.

Mr. Muilenburg, who was in Florida on launch day, ran the company’s defense and space business until 2013. He has been vocal about the company’s ambitious plans for the sector, telling associates over the years that civil space initiatives had long-term strategic and public relations significance beyond anticipated financial returns.

The focus on returning the MAX to service has consumed management’s time as well as the company’s capital, making it tougher to sell new planes and disrupting Boeing’s broader jetliner strategy, which includes plans for a new midsize aircraft.

The latest setbacks, coupled with United Airlines Holdings Inc. ’s announcement Friday that it removed the MAX from its schedules until June 4, highlighted the daunting crisis facing Boeing leaders

No large shareholders have joined in the public calls for Mr. Muilenburg to step down. Though Boeing shares have traded in a narrow range for much of the time since the MAX’s grounding in March, the stock dropped 10% this month as the aircraft’s expected return to service was pushed back, portending less cash flow from customers. The recent halt to MAX production is expected to raise costs and put more stress on Boeing’s 150,000-strong workforce and the global aerospace supply chain.

Boeing this past week said it planned to suspend MAX production in January after amassing around 400 undelivered jets, now stored around the country. The move follows criticism from regulators that Boeing was overly optimistic in its expectations for the MAX to be recertified for commercial flight.

President Donald Trump called Mr. Muilenburg last weekend to discuss the production halt, according to people briefed on the conversation. The president asked about the duration of the shutdown, one of these people said.

Boeing hasn’t said how long the suspension might last and said it doesn’t anticipate layoffs or furloughs. Around 12,000 staff assemble the plane at a plant near Seattle.

Boeing originally planned to have delivered about 1,000 of the planes to airlines and lessors by June next year, which would represent some 5% of the global airliner fleet. Carriers have been forced to cancel thousands of flights and hang on to older planes since the MAX’s grounding following a second fatal crash in five months.

Boeing has set aside an initial $6.1 billion for customer compensation. It has also booked $3.6 billion in charges to cover the slowdown in MAX production. Analysts think both numbers could double when Boeing announces its fourth-quarter earnings on Jan. 29.

Rival Airbus SE has snagged orders with its A321neo, which is larger and flies further than the MAX. United this month ordered 50 of the A321neo, the first Airbus order by the carrier since 2002.

Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Inc., the largest MAX supplier, said Boeing told it to stop making fuselages for the plane from Jan. 1 at its plant in Wichita, Kan. Spirit has kept making 52 fuselages a month even after Boeing reduced its MAX output in April to 42.

Spirit relies on the MAX for half of its revenue, and the enforced shutdown of its three MAX lines is expected by analysts to ripple through a network of 600 main suppliers for the plane—and through the broader economy. Boeing is the largest U.S. exporter.

Most suppliers have said they would rather maintain some production to make it easier to ramp up again and retain staff in a tight labor market for aerospace engineers and mechanics.

The sole supplier of engines for the MAX, the CFM International joint venture between General Electric Co. and Safran SA, plans to shift resources to make more for a rival Airbus jet, according to people familiar with the situation.

The Starliner’s orbital failure hit Boeing particularly hard because prior to the launch some inside and outside the company had seen the mission as a chance to demonstrate an ability, albeit belated, to deliver on pledges to NASA. The uncrewed test flight occurred more than three years later than initially envisioned.

NASA officials said if astronauts had been on board the capsule they would have been safe despite the thruster misfires. Nicole Mann, one of two NASA astronauts slated to fly the first crewed Starliner mission, reiterated the importance of maintaining manual-control alternatives. “We have the capability on board to stop the automation and take over manually to fly,” she told reporters.

Before Friday’s events, Boeing had signaled it hoped to transport the first crew to the space station by summer. Now that timetable is under review, with Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing’s space and launch businesses, indicating that engineers will seek out the cause of the problem.

NASA chief Jim Bridenstine told reporters it was premature to comment on whether another uncrewed demonstration flight would be required before astronauts belt into a Starliner capsule.

Mr. Muilenburg has touted that the first astronaut to land on Mars would likely travel on a Boeing-made rocket. “I think this is the most exciting time in our country’s space program in decades,” he said in a speech last year. “We’re working on things now that are bigger than the Apollo program.”

A farmer who built an aircaft runway in his back garden has finally been taken to task by the Planning Service on another matter

Dan McCartan appeared at Omagh Magistrates Court last week after planners lost patience with Tyrone's answer to Howard Hughes.

In 2008 the revealed how McCartan had built a runway on land beside his home in Carrickmore before planning permission had been granted.

Eventually planners granted him retrospective permission for the 1000 metre runway at his Whitebridge Road home.

They also let him retain a farm shed which he had converted into an aircraft hangar.

At the time McCartan was the talk of the local area and people wondered what he planned to use his remote country airstrip for.

Despite telling the Sunday World back then that the runway was purely for "private use" and would not be used for business purposes McCartan is now running a lucrative flying school from the strip.

But now it has emerged that McCartan, nicknamed 'Taiwan Dan' because of his car parts business, has failed to comply with two Enforcement Notices which were issued by Planning Service.

Those notices - which by law must be complied with - were in respect of two storage areas for end-of-life cars.

Meanwhile the Sunday World has learned McCartan was in court earlier this year after he was convicted of possessing illegal fuel.

The 57-year-old pleaded guilty in March to having thousands of litres of the illegal fuel which had been laundered in an illegal depot in Co. Tyrone.

The plant was seized by HM Revenue and Customs and investigators discovered huge amounts of the petrol was being stored on land owned by McCartan.

McCartan received a four month suspended sentence, and was ordered to pay a whopping £15,000 compensation fee for tax evaded.

McCartan pleaded guilty at Omagh Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, to a charge of fraudulent evasion of duty totalling £15,000 relating to hydrocarbon oils.

The offence is said to have taken place between November 9 and November 27, 2009.

A defence counsel said that it was accepted by the crown that McCartan was not a "major player'' involved in the laundering of fuel.

However, he said the father-of-six had "foolhardedly" taken possession of three loads of oil to sell at a time when he was under a lot of financial pressures.


"The difference in price was only a matter of pence per litre," said his defence QC.

"It is a good example of how it is so foolish to become involved in something which has small amounts of money to be gained but which have devastating financial consequences.

"He foolishly gave into temptation in this case. As a result of his guilty plea, he has lost his good name and his reputation."

But McCartan was back before the courts last week after he was accused of refusing to adhere to the Planning Service orders.

During the brief hearing, a defence solicitor asked for the case to be adjourned and McCartan is due before the court again on December 13th.

Despite his claims to the contrary six years ago McCartan was seemingly always planning to start up a flying school.

C-More Flying School has been operating for six years and offers packages for the budding pilot.

According to their Facebook page: "C-More flying school, situated in the heart of scenic Tyrone! We offer pleasure flights in our Microlight aircraft, or for those who are feeling more adventurous we also offer lessons with our fully qualified instructors. You will be made feel welcome in our club house with refreshments, pool table, TV and computer games."

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Kootenai County looking for next airport boss: Coeur d'Alene Airport (KCOE) , Idaho

COEUR d'ALENE - Kootenai County commissioners and an application review committee met Friday to review 19 applications for a new airport manager.

They also decided to re-open the application deadline to Dec. 12.

Commissioner Todd Tondee said the commissioners were joined by three members of the airport advisory committee and interim Airport Manager Phil Cummings.

The county's human resource director was on vacation, and the two incoming commissioners - David Stewart and Marc Eberlein - were invited but decided not to attend.

"It's really not on my watch right now," Eberlein said, explaining why he chose not to participate.

Stewart said he didn't go because he had business in Spokane.

"The way I see it, the only choice the commissioners have now is to move forward or wait until after January," Stewart said, adding that he wants to give them the benefit of the doubt. "I guess it will depend on how strongly they feel they are doing the best thing for the county."

The review committee met in executive session, which was closed to the public. However, it opened a public meeting after the executive session to vote on extending the application deadline.

"And we are going to interview a couple of those applicants," Tondee said. "But we will wait until after we review the next round of applicants."

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McKean Aviation reorganizes: Bradford Regional Airport (KBFD), Pennsylvania

SMETHPORT (EC) — Have you ever dreamed of learning to fly? Are you an aviation buff looking to meet new friends? Perhaps you are a civic-minded person seeking a rewarding way of making a positive impact on the community? In any case, McKean Aviation wants you.

Founded in 1958, McKean Aviation is a non-profit organization based at the Bradford Regional Airport and comprised of pilots, aircraft owners and others who share a common passion for aviation and are dedicated to promoting general aviation interests. “It is a general aviation advocacy organization,” said Jim Neely, a spokesperson for the organization.

Having recently reorganized, McKean Aviation is joining forces with the Experimental Aircraft Association, an international group of aviation enthusiasts that has grown over the years and now includes almost every phase of aviation and aeronautics. “The move is expected to bring a wealth of educational and promotional expertise to our local group,” said Neely.

Neely emphasized that the two organizations will remain separate.

Working in cooperation with airport management and the Bradford Regional Airport Authority, McKean Aviation intends to grow general aviation representation on the field by promoting new pilot starts, providing opportunities for continuing pilot safety education, partnering with the airport on improvements and developing programs geared toward youth involvement. At the same time, McKean Aviation recognizes its role in promoting economic development at the airport.

Neely said, “We want to build a stronger relationship between the airport authority and pilots, management and pilots and pilots themselves.”

Support for this goal has come in a meeting with County Commissioner Joe DeMott, airport authority chairman, and Mike Glesk, a member of the airport advisory committee. 

Bradford has a legendary and colorful aviation history with roots dating back to C. Taylor and Taylorcraft, and William Piper of Piper Aircraft Corporation, pioneers in making the dream of flying a reality.

“We want to share our passion for aviation and spark an interest in others to join us,” Neely said. “We also want our communities to renew their love for their airport. One of our first goals will be to develop an annual aviation celebration event at the airport for everyone to attend and enjoy.”

Alicia Dankesreiter, the airport’s interim director, has been really receptive to this goal and is “very willing to cooperate with us,” Neely said.

Neely has sent a “challenge” letter to local aviation enthusiasts in which he mentioned his observations and comments from pilots about the importance of becoming partners with the airport authority and management in working toward same goals. In that letter, Neely wrote, “To build a bright future for general aviation at the Bradford Regional Airport we recognize it is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work. I hope you will join us.”

According to Neely, “I’ve been well-pleased with the response to the letter. It has been excellent.”

Due in large part to that letter, 16-17 people — almost half of them are pilots — are now attending McKean Aviation’s monthly meetings on the second Thursday at 7 p.m. at the airport’s conference room. Neely said, “A lot of people, such as Mike Kocjancic, Dave Zuckerman and Bruce Klein are stepping up and taking their turns at the plate.”

For more information, contact Neely at 837-8424 or Klein at 642-9486.

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Clutha owner plans memorial for rebuilt bar: Eurocopter EC 135 T2+, G-SPAO

The owner of the Clutha bar, where ten people died after a police helicopter crashed through the roof a year ago this week, has revealed plans to reopen the Glasgow pub with a memorial to those who lost their lives.

Alan Crossan told Scotland on Sunday that the first anniversary of the tragedy next Saturday would be “very difficult for all concerned” but is looking ahead with plans for a memorial stone to occupy the center of the new Clutha bar when it reopens next year.

The stone will feature two interlinked hands, in tribute to those who rushed to help that fateful night, with the ten fingers representing the ten lives lost.

“You have to be really sensitive when rebuilding somewhere that people have died. It has taken me a long time to get it straight in my head what I want to do with it. It won’t be an exact recreation but I would hope it will have the same sense of character. The Clutha was never about the bar itself but more the people who drank there,” Crossan said.

More than 100 people were inside listening to ska band Esperanza when tragedy struck the Clutha at 10:25pm on 29 November, 2013. As well as the ten people who died, many more sustained terrible injuries.

Pilot David Traill and police constables Tony Collins and Kirsty Nelis were killed when the Eurocopter EC 135 went down, while those killed in the pub were John McGarrigle, Mark O’Prey, Gary Arthur, Colin Gibson, Robert Jenkins and Samuel McGhee. Joe Cusker was pulled from the wreckage but later died in hospital.

To mark the anniversary a service will be held at Glasgow Cathedral on Saturday while numerous other private acts of remembrance will also take place.

The Clutha, in Stockwell Street on the north bank of the River Clyde, is one of Glasgow’s oldest pubs and was a popular venue for live music.

Crossan yesterday denied suggestions that he was planning to sell the Clutha site or build flats where the bar used to stand. “There have been a lot of rumours floating around about my plans, people saying I was looking to build flats but that has never crossed my mind,” he said.

Asked whether he felt the authorities were doing enough in regard to the investigation into the crash, he said: “No, it is one year on and we still don’t have any information on what happened to the helicopter – the families need closure.”

An investigation is still being carried out by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch and it is hoped that the full report will be made available early next year.

Crossan has also set up a charity, The Clutha Trust, with the aim of helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds into the music industry. A trust launch night is to be held this Friday at the Barrowlands featuring Sandi Thom, Horse, Carly Conner and Denny Oliver.

A separate fund set up to raise cash for the victims families has so far amassed £500,000 while the company that operated the police helicopter Bond Air Services has started making payments to the victims after accepting strict liability for the losses suffered by those killed or injured in the crash.

Lawyers for the victims have revealed that full compensation payments are close to being reached. But in some of the cases of people who were seriously injured, the payouts could take longer given the extent of their injuries.

More than 30 cases are being handled by Glasgow-based Thompsons ­Solicitors, while aviation specialists Irwin Mitchell, have 17 clients.

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Holiday travelers choose Colorado Springs Airport for one main reason; some not aware of another perk

Scott and Connie Kumpf and their three sons were exactly the type of passenger the Colorado Springs Airport hoped to attract during the traditionally busy Thanksgiving holiday travel week.

The Castle Rock family was traveling Saturday from the Springs to Guatemala to visit their son Joshua, who recently finished his mission work for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was the first time they used the Colorado Springs Airport.

"We could have booked the same flight through Houston from Denver, but it was at least $100 per person cheaper to fly from Colorado Springs," Scott Kumpf said. "It is convenient and about the same distance to either airport. It is quiet and the parking lot shuttle bus was right there to pick us up."

Connie Kumpf also mentioned the added bonus of free parking - the Springs airport has eliminated all charges for short- and long-term parking during November and December - but the couple said fares were the deciding factor in choosing to fly from Colorado Springs.

Several passengers interviewed early Saturday cited convenience and comparable fares as the primary reason for flying from the Springs rather than driving to Denver International Airport to catch a flight. None of the 27 people in nine families interviewed cited parking as the most important factor in deciding to fly from the Springs, and many were not aware that parking was free until they arrived at the airport.

Steven and Nicole Brewer of Colorado Springs chose to travel from the Springs because they were flying for the first time with their two small children and wanted to get to the airport and into the terminal quickly rather than drive for more than an hour to Denver. Parking wasn't an issue for the family since a friend dropped them off at the terminal.

"I usually go straight to Denver rather than catching the short flight" from the Springs to Denver, Steven Brewer said. "It normally costs us more to drive to Denver, but the savings of flying from Colorado Springs is not worth the risk (of a delay) in the short connection to Denver."

Glenn and Karen Olsen of Colorado Springs were flying to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., through Houston for a Carribean cruise and chose to fly from the local airport for covenience, Karen Olsen said. The couple booked their flight before the free parking promotion was announced.

Jane and Grace Ridings of Colorado Springs were headed to New York through Denver and chose the local airport primarily for convenience.

"We got flights (from Colorado Springs) at competitive fares and we prefer to use this airport because it is so convenient. You can get parked, checked in and through security in minutes. The free parking didn't play a role in the decision to fly from here, but it is a very nice perk," Jane Ridings said.

Kenneth and Gabbi Moore and their two sons, all from Colorado Springs, were flying through Houston to a family vacation in Charleston, S.C. Parking wasn't an issue for the family since they were dropped off by a friend.

"The fares (between the two airports) were competitive and once you factor in driving to DIA and paying the cost of long-term parking," the couple decided to fly from the Springs, Gabbi Moore said.

Pavielle Wright of Colorado Springs always flies from the local airport, but usually while she is working as a flight attendant for SkyWest Airlines as part of a flight crew based at the airport. She was traveling Saturday to Los Angeles to celebrate her birthday with family.

"It's a small, quick airport and very comfortable. I love flying in and out of here," she said.

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State police hope to have Federal Aviation Administration permission to use drones soon

It cost $160,000, but it fits into a backpack.

The newest addition to the Michigan State Police aviation unit is a high-tech remote-controlled helicopter, better known as a drone. Pilots have been training on it for almost a year and they hope to get Federal Aviation Administration approval in the next 30 days to use it across the state.

“We’re just waiting for the FAA to come and take a look at our program,” said 1st Lt. Chris Bush.

State Police want to use it for search and rescue missions, barricaded gunmen, even natural disaster damage assessments. But they aren’t the only ones who want eyes in the skies.

The drone industry is poised to boom in Michigan and around the world. Hobbyists, entrepreneurs and businesses are finding new ways to use a technology that seemed like science fiction just a few years ago.

Drone classes at Northwest Michigan College in Traverse City are full and teachers must update the curriculum every semester just to keep up with the newest technology.

But the technology continues to raise questions about air safety, privacy and security. And like the dawn of the automobile era, the age of unmanned aerial systems — as they are formally known — is evolving much faster than the laws.

In a much watched case in Virginia, the National Transportation Safety Board last week ruled that drones are indeed aircraft subject to federal regulation, overturning an earlier ruling from a judge.

Hobbyists who keep their drones within line of sight, under 400 feet and more than three miles from an airport are not regulated.

Federal, state and local government agencies, including universities, can get permission to fly them and others can get special permission for experiments and research. The FAA bans commercial use of drones, though it’s working on proposed rules to make that possible.

In Michigan now, Michigan State and Central Michigan universities and Northwest Michigan College are among those that have permission to use them.

State Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, proposed state-level regulation of drones almost two years ago, but the legislation hasn’t moved and the controversies show no signs of dying down.

McMillin said last week he still has privacy concerns and hopes the presence of the State Police drone will prompt more discussion.

Federal regulators insist that commercial drone use is illegal without permission. But that hasn’t stopped early adopters from launching:

■Real estate firms use drones to take aerial photos to market properties.

■Farmers use drone cameras to spot crops that need water, fertilizer and pest control.

■Utility companies use them to inspect wind turbines and power lines.

■Police agencies hope to use drones to help find lost people, photograph accident scenes, and conduct surveillance.

Economic impact

In 2015, Michigan can expect about $31 million in economic impact from drones, a figure that’s expected to triple by 2017, according to a study by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a non-profit industry group based in Arlington, Va.

About half of the estimated economic benefit comes from direct spending on manufacturing by small-scale Michigan companies, as well as sales and service of the aircraft. The rest comes from that money being recirculated through the economy, according to the study.

Nationwide, the industry is expected to grow from about $2.2 billion in 2015 to more than $10 billion by 2025 including more than 100,000 jobs, according to the study.

Harry Arnold of Detroit is one of the early adopters. In under a minute, he can pull a homemade helicopter from his van, set it on a launch pad and get the blades twirling using a book-sized remote control.

The aircraft, a quadcopter made from a couple hundred dollars worth of parts found in a local hobby shop, rises slowly and beams back a birdseye view to video screen on the ground.

“This is the dawn of a new type of transportation delivery systems,” said Arnold, who has been shooting drone videos for about five years now. “It’s kind of like if you had an automobile in 1901.”

Arnold has built a business combining two of his passions, remote controlled aircraft and photography. He’s done real estate and utility work, and even some personal use.

“I did a wedding at U of M stadium and I did one at Meadowbrook,” he said.

Arnold said operating drone cameras is his full-time job, and while he doesn’t deliberately confront regulators, he doesn’t pay much heed to the Federal Aviation Administration.

“They are just trying to keep the genie in a bottle,” he said.

Following the rules

The FAA certifies aircraft, pilots and even mechanics who work on them, to ensure safety, so it’s not a surprise it wants to regulate drones, especially for commercial use, said Stephen Tupper, the head of the aviation law section for the Michigan Bar.

“The FAA has had a very, very broad interpretation of what is commercial,” he said. “If you’re shooting a music video and there is a commercial purpose to it, they FAA is probably going to take the position that that is a commercial operation and that is covered.”

But Tupper said gray areas still exist. What happens if a hobbyist uses a drone to take aerial photos of his neighborhood and then a neighbor asks to buy one?

“Does it matter what you intended when you launched?” Tupper said. “Does it matter what you ultimately want to use it for?”

Those are questions that haven’t been answered definitively yet, Tupper said.

Demand for training

Northwest Michigan College in Traverse City offers three courses in unmanned aircraft systems, and they have been full, said director of aviation Aaron Cook.

Aviation students can take them as electives and students in the engineering technology program can take them as well.

“Technically, you cannot have a degree in unmanned aerial vehicles,” Cook said.

Cook said most of the students who study the systems end up working for contractors for the Department of Defense, which has been using drones for years to patrol hostile territory and hunt terrorists.

Cook said when most people think of drones, they imagine military vehicles used abroad to hunt terrorists. But as the technology has proliferated and become more inexpensive, all sorts of civilian uses have popped up.

He acknowledges that the technology is changing so quickly that systems being taught today could be obsolete in 12 to 18 months as they are replaced by newer systems. “Every semester we have to retool the program to stay current.”

Like automobiles, drones bring together a variety of technologies. Manufacturers are constantly working with foam and carbon fiber to reduce weight. New batteries let them fly longer. Computer systems create better controls and software processes the images they capture.

Police tread carefully
Michigan State Police last year used a Homeland Security grant to buy its $160,000 drone made by Aeryon Labs, a Canadian company that makes them for military, law enforcement and commercial operations.

The drone carries a high definition camera, can fly for about 50 minutes on a single battery charge, withstand wind-gusts of up to 40 mph. It has a range of several miles, though the current certificate of authorization requires pilots to keep it close enough to see from the ground.

But even shopping for one raises legal questions.

“I had to actually go to Canada to view Aeryon fly it,” said Bush, the commander of the field support and aviation section. “Even going to some conference, you can’t see them fly unless you know someone who’s got a training certificate of authorization.”

The FAA granted a certificate of authorization for State Police to use it for training purposes and is reviewing an application to use it in police work.

The Oakland County Sheriff’s office also is awaiting permission to fly a drone.

Last year, the county used $34,000 in drug forfeiture money to buy a star-shaped copter with six propellers made by Aerial Imagery Works of Troy. Sheriff Michael Bouchard said the process is painstaking slow, and already highly regulated.

The sheriff deputies who will fly must be certified pilots, Bouchard said.

He said concerns about surveillance are misguided, noting the aircraft can only fly for minutes at a time under 400 feet where pilots can see it from the ground.

“If we can see it, everyone can see it,” Bouchard said. “This is not a surveillance device, it’s an assessment device.”

One of the concerns raised by drone use is the collection of aerial video and what becomes of it.

“Data retention is a big thing,” Bush said. “We met with the ACLU to hear their concerns.”

Bush said the state is still working on policies, but it plans to treat aerial footage from the drone the same way it treats footage shoot from cameras mounted to the dashboard of patrol cars.

If the footage becomes necessary in a criminal case, it will be logged into evidence. Otherwise, the computer chips that hold it will be kept for a time, likely 30 days, and then recorded over.

“We want to make sure we do it right,” Bush said.

John Wisely is a reporter for the Detroit Free Press.

Hobby or commercial?

The Federal Aviation Administration regulates unmanned aerial aircraft, unless they are considered hobbies or recreational in nature.

Hobby or recreational uses include:

■Flying model aircraft.

■Taking drone photos for personal use.

■Surveying crops for watering and fertilizing needs when crops are for personal enjoyment.

Non-hobby or recreational uses include:

■Demonstrating aerobatics for pay.

■Photographing property for a fee.

■Surveying crops for a commercial farm.


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Neptune's firefighting jets await word on future Forest Service contracts

Neptune Aviation’s big firefighting jets are all back in Missoula for the winter, while their owners watch the mailbox for news of their flying future.

“The Forest Service is coming out with seven of what we’re calling the Next-Gen 2.0 contracts,” Neptune Chief Executive Officer Ron Hooper said. “We expected to see the notice on the first of November. We’re anxious to see the RFP (request for proposals) so we can see how many aircraft we’ve got working next year.”

Neptune still has three years remaining on its “legacy” contract with the Forest Service that covers six of its aging P2V propeller-driven retardant bombers and one of its new BAe-146 jet bombers. But its one-season contracts for three more BAe-146s have expired.

Meanwhile, the company has brought on two more of the jets, for a total of six. The BAe’s are Neptune’s answer to the Forest Service’s next-generation air tanker policy, which calls for a private fleet of 18 to 28 modern aircraft able to carry at least 3,000 gallons of fire retardant and travel at least 350 mph to fight forest fires.

Five other companies have successfully landed next-gen contracts. Several of those challenged Neptune’s bids for a slice of the business and got its contract awards overturned.

The competitors include two DC-10 jets belonging to 10 Tanker Air Carrier, two RJ85 jets (similar to the BAe) from Aero Flite Inc., two MD87s from Aero Air LLC and one C-130Q from Coulson Aviation.

The Forest Service also can call on eight U.S. Air National Guard C-130s equipped with modular airborne firefighting systems. Minden Air Corp. has developed a BAe-146 for firefighting, but hasn’t met the requirements to bring it into service.

“We fully expect all our five competitors to be making offers on these next contracts,” Hooper said.

And that doesn’t count 72 single-engine air tankers, three water-scooper planes and 668 heavy, medium and light helicopters under various types of government firefighting contract.


Forest Service Director of Fire and Aviation Management Tom Harbour said the new contracts are still undergoing fine-tuning.

“We hope within the next month or so to have that contract out,” Harbour said last week. “We’re trying to learn from each iteration of this contract, trying to make the changes that make a better contract for vendors and for us.”

While the big requirements for payload and speed haven’t changed, Harbour said a lot of work has gone into treating all vendors on a level playing field. That’s hard when the new players have brought on a wide variety of planes, from converted military C-130s with removable retardant tanks to DC-10 jumbo jets using modified helicopter tanks.

“One thing that I found fascinating had to do with specific take-off characteristics at an airport of specific name, specific altitude, temperature, set of conditions – very technical stuff,” Harbour said. “We put something in, and vendors look at their specs and say, ‘What did you mean?’ So we’ve found ourselves making certain about all these details on runway lengths, temperatures, density and altitude characteristics.”

At the same time, the Forest Service is researching the effectiveness of air tankers.

The second phase of its “Aerial Firefighting Use and Effectiveness” study started in August. It compiles records of each retardant drop, type of aircraft, mission intent and outcome, as well as the kinds of fire behavior, weather, forest type and other factors describing the incident. The study may run through 2020.

“We’ve got to be able to more effectively measure the impact those air tankers and their drops had on the objectives the on-the-ground firefighters are trying to achieve," Harbour said. “We can have fairly nuanced objectives for wildfire. Sometimes we want to put them out as quickly as we can, like the Black Cat fire (north of Missoula’s Wye in 2007).

"To the other side of the wildfire spectrum, we’d handle a fire inside the Bob (Marshall Wilderness Area) a completely different way. We want to have air tankers that are effective in both those situations. So we study that, and then work back upstream to translate those into effective contracts.”

Congress also provided the Forest Service with seven C-130 cargo planes decommissioned from the U.S. Coast Guard. Harbour said those planes can use the MAFFS tanks, but the agency wants to refit them with larger gravity-fed tanks like the private companies have developed.

He added that those planes would eventually be handed over to private companies to fly and maintain while the government keeps ownership over the next two or three years.

“I’m a firm believer that the things we learn from healthy ecosystems, the diversity we see there, can be a good idea for us,” Harbour said. “We expect to have good competition. When we get into that situation, that results in a good buy for the Forest Service.”

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Uninterruptible power supply failure behind blackout at Vietnam airport: official

The unprecedented power outage that hit Vietnam’s largest airport on Thursday took place because the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems that power the Ho Chi Minh City Area Control Center (ACC) went offline, the head of the country’s aviation watchdog said Friday.

The ACC, which oversees flights to and from Tan Son Nhat International Airport situated in the city, has three sources of power supply: the national power grid, generators, and the UPS.

There were no problems with the power from the national grid or generators at the time of the blackout, but one of the three UPS units at the ACC failed, Lai Xuan Thanh, head of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV), told reporters in Hanoi.

“As ACC technicians tried to restart the failed UPS, the other two broke down as well,” Thanh added.

The UPS is capable of supplying power to the whole flight operating system at the ACC.

“The center was receiving power from the national grid and the generators via the UPS units, so when all of them broke down, the power was cut,” Thanh elaborated.

The power cut lasted from 11:05 am to 12:19 pm and disabled the radar system that controls air traffic at the airport.

The incident, which Thanh said was the first of its kind in Vietnamese aviation history, affected 92 flights.

At the time the power went out, 54 out of the 92 affected flights were within the city’s flight information region (FIR), according to the CAAV chief.

As of 3:40 pm Thursday, only two out of the three UPS units had resumed operation, while the last device only came back online around noon the following day, Thanh said.

The CAAV suspended two people from the ACC on Thursday for investigation following the power failure.

The suspended are the leader and a technician on the team that was on duty at the ACC when the dangerous incident occurred.

The authority also demanded a review of the technical operations at the center.

The CAAV will continue inspecting the case and release an official report on it by November 29.

Tan Son Nhat, which is the largest airport in Vietnam, handles about 20,000 million passengers a year.

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