Friday, December 19, 2014

1st drone in Nevada test program crashes in demo

BOULDER CITY, NEV. — An aerial drone testing program got off to a bumpy start Friday in Nevada, when the first unmanned aircraft authorized to fly without direct Federal Aviation Administration supervision crashed during a ceremony at a remote site.

"This is still a great day for Nevada," Gov. Brian Sandoval said after the orange aircraft dubbed the Sensurion Magpie was launched by hand, flew about 10 feet and plunged nose-first to the desert floor.

"This is testing," the governor said. "This is why we're here."

Company and FAA officials said the drone wasn't damaged. But they didn't try to fly it again during the ceremony.

"Protocol is to troubleshoot the problem," said Bruce Tarbert, an official with the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems — the testing agency that became the first in the nation to gain FAA approval to issue airworthiness certificates on its own.

Certification was made official earlier, Tarbert and FAA officials said, when the pilotless airplane weighing less than 8 pounds and a wingspan of about 5 feet flew for about 15 minutes before guests arrived.

The Republican governor and GOP U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and U.S. Rep. Joe Heck were among those on hand for regional FAA official Glen Martin to present a framed certificate making what Martin called a milestone for the unmanned aerial systems industry. Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid sent a staff representative.

"Today marks the first time that a special airworthiness certificate has been issued to any UAS applicant at any UAS test site," Martin said, and the first time an FAA-designated representative was authorized to issue the document.

Sensurion Aerospace CEO Joe Burns told the 40 people who attended that they were witnessing the birth of a new industry involving unmanned aerial vehicle research, development and operations.

The use of drones is expected to grow quickly not only as a way to deliver pizza or packages by air, but to spray crops, inspect power lines, collect seismic data and provide an eye in the sky to news crews and police.

Steven Hill, the governor's economic development chief, noted the timing and location of the ceremony held on a sunny and clear morning in a vast expanse of desert about 30 miles east of downtown Las Vegas.

"We have 320 flying days a year," Hill said. "We are probably one of the few locations in the country that has the ability to confidently schedule a flight on Dec. 19."

Nevada was one of six states chosen a year ago as a test site for drones while the FAA develops operating regulations.

The first FAA-authorized commercial drone operation over land began in June in Alaska.

New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia also have authorization for drone testing.

Sandoval compared the fledgling drone industry in Nevada to the cellphone industry 25 years ago, and said he hoped Nevada would become a hub for drone development "so our kids and grandkids can stay here and have a career manufacturing and flying UAV's."

Nevada, with vast expanses of open and undeveloped land, already has a top U.S. drone surveillance and combat operations center at Creech Air Force Base about 35 miles northwest of Las Vegas. It is also home to an air combat training center at Nellis Air Force Base.

Hill said the state has three other official drone testing facilities at airports in Mercury, Fallon and Stead, near Reno.

Story and Photos:

Texas Department of Transportation grant money to boost South Texas International Airport (KEBG), Edinburg

EDINBURG — The Texas Transportation Commission approved at its monthly meeting Thursday the first roughly $190,000 of a total of $2.3 million for improvements to Edinburg’s airport.

The commission is the governing board of the Texas Department of Transportation. The city announced last month it won a grant from the department for design and construction costs of airport improvements. The state agency will provide about $2.3 million for the projects, while the city will kick in about $235,000 as a 10 percent match.

The city council last month passed a resolution to support airport improvements.

“It’s obviously going to enhance our airport,” City Manager Ramiro Garza said. “These are needed improvements to our airport to help us grow it, and we’re very excited about the support we’re getting from TxDOT.”

TxDOT will use the initial $190,000 for engineering and design of hangar and pavement improvements, according to a Friday news release from the department.

Officials will choose a project consultant over the winter, the release said.


Air Choice One numbers looking good so far • Mason City Municipal Airport (KMCW), Iowa

ARIAN SCHUESSLER, The Globe Gazette 
Passengers board a recent Air Choice One flight out of the Mason City Municipal airport.

MASON CITY | Air Choice One is off to a good start in Mason City, according to airport Manager Pam Osgood.

The airline began operations in Mason City on Nov. 17. 

"In the figures I've seen so far, we had 145 enplanements and 156 deplanements, and that's not for the full month," she said. "According to my calculations we averaged 18 passengers per day. That is a great start." 

Air Choice One provides four flights a day to and from O'Hare Field in Chicago, plus weekend flights.

Its launch in Mason City stopped a long dry spell in commercial air service. Great Lakes, which served the airport for two years, suspended operations in February, citing a pilot shortage.

The local airport commission, working through the U.S. Department of Transportation, sought requests from other airlines twice, after rejecting the first proposals it received.

The commission settled on Air Choice One in September and it started up in Mason City two months later.

Passenger levels are important to the airport for two reasons. It receives a subsidy from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) based on the number of passengers. In years past it has received $1 million for surpassing the 10,000-passenger threshold, but has not come near that in recent years.

Secondly, the federal government provides Essential Air Service (EAS) funding to help airlines subsidize service to smaller airports — as long as passenger traffic warrants it.

The Mason City Airport saw a 50 percent decrease in passengers between 2008 and 2012, due in part to inconsistent service provided by Great Lakes.

Osgood said the airport had a viable 12,000 passengers a year as recently as 2011, and she believes reliable service from Air Choice One will help see those levels return.

“So far the planes have been full, so we are optimistic,” Osgood said. “We feel we can get back to that status again. We need to demonstrate they can be successful here, and we think we can.”

She said, as always, the key to success will be the support of the North Iowa public in utilizing the air service.

- Original article can be found at:

Most plane accidents happen while still at airports

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 20:  Aviation statistics show that flying is still very safe, despite the headline-grabbing losses of flights MH370 and MH17 this year, said Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty SE.

In its Global Aviation Safety Study report, the Allianz Group unit said a very significant part of insurance claims made in recent years is actually due to aircraft being unable to leave the airport in the first place.

Such insurance claims are largely due to the planes being declared unsafe to fly due to “ground equipment damage” or “mechanical failure”.

The report noted that damage caused by accidents while the plane is still at airport ramps are on the rise, costing the aviation industry about US$10 billion (RM35 billion) a year.

“Ineffective communication is at the heart of most incidents. Contact between airplanes and ground service equipment accounts for more than 80% of incidents.

“Damage from foreign objects continues to be an issue for the aviation sector, with this being the fifth highest generator of insurance claims by number.

“Bird strikes are a notable cause but incidents on runways with animals such as zebras and cows can also cause losses.” 

The unit’s global head for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific Henning Haagen said: “Today, there are fewer fatalities or total hull losses compared with the past.”

When aircraft losses do occur, the report estimated that 70% of fatal accidents are related to human error with pilot fatigue as a major contributor.

“Initiatives such as crew resource management and the automated cockpit have improved safety levels, but automation can also have a downside as a number of incidents have raised the question of whether pilots are too reliant on automation in the cockpit.”

But such automation also has a downside, the report noted. “Newer aircrafts are highly exposed to cyber crime due to the prevalent use of data networks, onboard computer systems and navigation systems.

“The expected increase of drones in commercial use also poses as another risks as an anticipated future shortage of a skilled workforce including pilots.”

Looking back, the report added: “In 2012 88% of global aviation fatalities occurred in Africa (45%) and Asia (43%).

“Africa currently uses the highest percentage of second generation aircraft – over 50% of the total fleet analysed. Upgrading the airline fleet to current generation aircraft is one of the safety initiatives which have lowered the global accident rate.

“In some parts of Africa, safety and training standards are comparable to those of 50 years ago in the US or Europe.”


Riverton Regional Airport (KRIW) to fall 2,000 passengers short of 10,000 enplanements this year

Riverton Regional Airport Manager Paul Griffin

(Riverton, Wyo.) – To no one’s surprise, enplanements at Riverton Regional Airport will come in around 8,000 passengers this year, some 2,000 short for the airport to qualify for a $1-million FAA grant for airport infrastructure.

Airport Manager Paul Griffin said at the end of November, the airport had enplaned 7,271 passengers, compared with 12,337 at that same time last year.

In the first quarter of this year, flight cancellations by Great Lakes Airlines were running up to 60 percent, which caused a big dip in the numbers that the airport could not recover.

“We are not alone as Sheridan and Cheyenne are in the same boat due to the pilot shortage and FAA mandate for crews and hours,” Griffin said. “Hopefully legislative action will correct this in the years ahead.”

With bad weather closing in the airport several days last month and with pilot shortage issues, Griffin said the number of flight cancellations by Great Lakes Airlines in November totaled 23. That compared to only 12 in October.

The good news in those statistics, according to Airport Board Member Bob Steen, is that the on-time performance of Great Lakes at Riverton Regional has been 76 percent, with only 10 percent of flights being late and five percent of flights cancelled.

Griffin said the airport is being served with 19 passenger Beech airframes and that some Brasilias have also flown in.

“During the fog events of the past two days, Great Lakes has been overflying us and going direct from Denver to Worland and back. We hope the fog lifts soon.”

Board Chairman Dean Peranteaux said communication from Great Lakes’ local airport staff has been good. “They go out of their way to communicate with passengers, sometimes two to three days out. Sometimes they don’t know a flight isn’t coming in until that very day,” he said.

Peranteaux said Great Lakes executives have not been returning his calls since October. “Sadly, there is not a lot of opportunity for Great Lakes to go out of its way to make sure flights go into and out of Riverton,” he said. “They are losing pilots in the double digits and back in October they only had two new pilots coming in.”

The pilot shortage hit most national commuter airlines after the FAA increased the right seat, or co-pilot, requirements from 250 hours to 1,500 hours.

A county-wide task force looking into how to enhance commercial air service at the airport is working on establishing itself as a non-profit organization to assist its fund raising efforts to provide a revenue guarantee for any future air service enhancements. The Task Force is working with Wyoming Aeronautics to identify a potential second carrier for the airport.

- Original article can be found at:

Former Airport Board Chairman Jim Matson was honored by the Board for his long service to the airport. The plaque of appreciation included “Heartfelt Congratulations and a sincere thank you.” Matson served as the chairman of the board for some eight years from 2006 to this year before he resigned due to health concerns. He had been an airport board member since 1999.

Parties seek trial in SilverWing lawsuit: Sandpoint Airport (KSZT), Idaho

SANDPOINT - Mediation and arbitration have failed to gain any loft in SilverWing at Sandpoint's federal suit against Bonner County.

Both sides filed a joint resolution Monday asking for a jury trial in U.S. District Court in Coeur d'Alene in April.

"The parties are not presently able to agree on alternative dispute resolution and wish to proceed to trial," read a joint notice to the court.

The notice comes after Bonner County rejected an offer by SilverWing to settle the matter for $5 million, according to Commissioner Mike Nielsen. The offer is $500,000 more than what SilverWing offered to settle for in 2013.

SilverWing, the developers of a fly-in housing project on the west side of Sandpoint Airport, sued the county in 2012 alleging it was misled about a plan to relocate a runway and Federal Aviation Administration approval of through-the-fence access at the airport. The suit also alleged that the county violated SilverWing's civil rights via inverse condemnation and denial of equal protection under the law.

However, a federal judge jettisoned three-fourths of the claims raised by SilverWing last month. Judge Edward Lodge ruled that the company's civil rights claims fail as a matter of law because there is no allegation that the county had a policy or custom that was the moving force behind the alleged constitutional violations.

Lodge left one state law claim intact in which SilverWing argued that it reasonably relied - to its detriment - on the county's promise that there were no plans to shift the runway.


Whistle-blower sues Huntington Beach aircraft parts company over his firing

A Huntington Beach aviation equipment manufacturer is being sued by a former employee who says he was illegally fired for whistle-blowing on the company.

Hoang Nguyen, 46, of Huntington Beach alleges that Ameri-King Inc. has been selling rebranded or refurbished products that were made in China and not approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, according to his attorney Katrina Foley, a Costa Mesa city councilwoman.

The FAA is investigating the company on allegations that it sold to distributors Chinese-made items such as emergency locater transmitters, altitude encoders and power converters that were relabeled to say they were made in the United States. The distributors then sold them to small-plane manufacturers like Cessna Aircraft Co., Foley said Wednesday.

"There's about 400 small planes that crash annually," Foley said. "There's a lot of investigation going on right now as to whether or not some of what had been previously considered as pilot error is really faulty products."

It is unknown whether any of Ameri-King's products have been used in large commercial aircraft, Foley said.

The company, at 17881 Sampson Lane, sells about 5,000 parts to distributors each year, said Do Phu, another attorney for Nguyen.

Nguyen's lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Orange County Superior Court, seeks general and compensatory damages, including lost wages, and compensation for mental and emotional distress.

"The lives of people using these airplanes are more important to me," Nguyen said in Vietnamese as attorney Tuan Anh Nguyen interpreted. "The safety and lives of other people compelled me to do this."

The complaint also accuses Ameri-King of tax evasion and using computer software that was installed without proper licensing, Foley said.

Victor Van, an Ameri-King manager, declined to comment Wednesday.

Ameri-King hired Nguyen in 2006 as an assembler, and he worked for the company for eight years. His duties included soldering wires to connectors and checking whether equipment worked properly, according to Nguyen's complaint.

Nguyen says he observed other employees relabeling Chinese-made parts that were not FAA-approved.

In 2008, his complaint says, Nguyen confronted his supervisor, Keith Van, about the actions, saying the products "increased risk of airplane crashes."

According to the complaint, Keith Van responded: "It's strange to say this, but when an airplane crashes, no single company will be held liable, because an airplane has thousands of parts and any single one of them could have resulted in the crash. So no one will be able to say definitively what made the airplane crash."

Nguyen says he continued to remind his employers of what they were doing. In 2011, he twice sent letters to the FAA detailing the activities, according to the complaint.

In October 2012, FAA inspectors visited Ameri-King to see the products and told Nguyen that they would open an investigation, the complaint says.

On Jan. 16, 2013, FAA officials interviewed Nguyen at the work site in front of Keith and Victor Van. Afterward, the complaint says, Keith Van told Nguyen that he could quit his job, and he later threatened to fire him if he continued making reports to the FAA.

Nguyen stayed in contact with the FAA and talked with officials at their office on Feb. 7, 2013. He met with FAA officials four more times that year, according to the complaint.

Ameri-King fired Nguyen on Jan. 8 this year, saying there was no work for him at the company. Nguyen argues that his work flow had not decreased and that several people were hired after he was let go.